Dissecting Owl Pellets

We’re in the middle of our Animal block, just about the part of nocturnal animals, and it seemed fitting do dissect an owl pellet. This gives us an opportunity to talk about how owls feed, and a chance to review the information that we’ve gone over on skeletons already, and a great intro to bird. We were lucky enough to find a bird skull in one of our pellets.

I knew that we would not just be dissecting one, and with the hopes that my high schooler would join in (which happened only for a few minutes) I bought several pellets. These are the pellets that we used. I was happy with them. They were large and easy to handle, and each one contained quite a bit of skulls and bones. Each pellet had at least two skulls in it. Here are a few tips that we found in our exercise.

First, I didn’t see instructions in several places that I looked on how exactly to do this. Did we need water? Should we soak them first? Turns out, no, we didn’t. It’s quite simple with some tweezers and a pointed stick, you just simply nudge and pull the pellet apart. They come with a chart of bone for rodents, moles, and birds, so you can tell for some of the bones which they are and who they came from.

Second, we didn’t bother purchasing the entire kit. After looking though several of them online, I realized they were made of things we basically already had on hand. We used a few styrofoam trays that I’d saved from fish and meats. It’s nice to have a lot of them. We ended up using more than 1 per person.

The kits also contained tweezers, which we had, and a couple of pointed wooden sticks. I had several bamboo skewers in the kitchen, so I took a few and broken them in half. They worked great. We did find there are several times when two tweezers came in handy. They also suggested gloves. We didn’t bother since no one wanted to touch the pellets anyway. We did, however, all wash our hand thoroughly afterwards, because, well, pellets seem gross.

Thirds, if you plan to keep your “specimens” it’s nice to have a couple of glass vials at hand. We had several from a nature exchange years ago, but these are similar to the ones we used. We didn’t keep all our skeletons, but we picked out our favorites to keep and tucked them into our vials to look at later. Maybe when we hit mammals in the coming weeks.

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