Anna's Animal Facts: Owls

By Cousin Anna (Age 12)

Cousin Anna

Did You Know? Contrary to what many people think, owls cannot turn their heads a full 360 degrees. They can only turn their heads a little bit more than 180 degrees.

On the last day of our recent overnight trip I made an interesting discovery - an owl pellet!

The owl pellet at the base of the tree.

What is an owl pellet? An owl pellet is the fur (or feathers) and bones of the animal an owl ate. An owl does not eat its prey in pieces; it swallows its prey whole! Owls don’t have a gag reflex. This means that an owl can’t choke when swallowing its prey. When an owl swallows its prey, it digests the meat and the ‘good stuff’, and spits up a ball of the fur, bones, and everything it can’t digest. This ball is called an owl pellet.

The bones in the owl pellet.

Owl pellets can be found at the base of an owl’s frequent perch, and are usually grey in colour. I found one at the base of a pine tree near my tent. It looked like a grey lump with a few bones sticking out of it. I recognized the pellet because I had dissected one before.  I got some tweezers from the first aid kit (we threw them out after) and pulled it apart. In the pellet I found the eye sockets and the top of the skull of a small rodent. I also found the jawbone and some vertebrae. There were foreleg and rear leg bones (I couldn’t tell which was which) and a few other fragments of the skull. It was an interesting find. We emailed the Algonquin Park Wildlife Research Station with pictures of the bones we found in the pellet, and asked what kind of rodent they might be from. The researchers haven’t gotten back to us yet, but we are hoping they will answer soon.

You can get your own owl pellets to dissect from Boreal Northwest.