Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dissecting an Owl Pellet

Happy New Year Everyone! I would like to say that one of my New Year's resolutions is to pay more attention to my blog again, but I'm not sure whether I can stick to that one. I'll make an attempt though now that a new year has begun. I still have bunches of photos from last summer saved in my camera that have never made it to the blog, so maybe I'll start with those. Even though this winter's been pretty mild so far, pictures of summer are always nice in the middle of January.

Today's post is about something else from last summer -- this owl pellet I found one day when we were out birding. It's been wrapped up in a paper napkin in the trunk of the car since last May. I was happy to still be able to find it in the trunk on New Year's Day, so I could take some photos of what this owl pellet consisted of. It looks pretty interesting just like this, doesn't it? You can't really tell from this picture, but it's actually a little bit smaller than a ping-pong ball.

Turning the pellet around, you can definitely see that there are some nice little rodent teeth. (I put on a glove because I remember hearing a horrible story a few years ago about some high school students that got sick after opening owl pellets, so I didn't want to tempt fate.)

I pulled the teeth out first because that was the biggest piece. What you do you think? I'm guessing maybe red squirrel or chipmunk based on the size of these teeth.

Lookit that! You can even see the little molars when I turn the jawbone over.

There were some other bigger pieces of bone in there, but no pieces that could be positively identifed as skull. The tail was pretty easy to identify though.

Here's another piece that looks kind of like a tiny little femur, doesn't it? And then there's the tail. I guess I should have had the tape measure out so I could have given you a better idea of exact size (fail!)

And here's the final showing of all the bony fragments and pieces that were inside the furry pellet.

I don't know that much about owl pellets, so I wondered whether all that fur was actually from the same animal that these bones belonged to? If it was a red squirrel or chipmunk, would the remaining fur all be this gray in color? Or does being inside an owl's stomach before being expelled change the color to gray? A mystery of nature that I can't unravel, but I was still excited about finding and opening this owl pellet.


Anonymous said...

What a find!! I have yet to take apart an owl pellet, so this is great, you have almost a complete skeleton of a -----? Maybe a squirrel, long tail.


dAwN said...

Real cool to see whats inside. Funny that its been in your trunk for so long..
Hope to see you blogging a bit more!
Happy Birding!

Gaelyn said...

I remember my first owl pellet dissection and was blown away by the amount of identifiable bones. I've seen ID cards at environmental education events. You can probably find some online for further investigation. The skull and teeth are very cool. I'd add them to my collection, whatever they are.

Owl party invitations said...

You won't really know this is from owl if you don't read the article.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mom,
It was very cool to actually find identifiable bones inside this lump of fur. I'm thinking squirrel too, mostly based on the size of those teeth.

Thanks Dawn. Can you tell I don't clean out the trunk very often? LOL! I've decided that 2012 is the year I start some serious de-junking projects around the house & garage and the trunk was as good a place as any!

Thanks for the tip Gaelyn. I didn't save any of the parts once I took the photos, but at least I still have them for reference.

Sorry OPI, but I'm pretty positive this pellet is from an owl and your article about birthday party invitations didn't change my mind one bit.....

Marianne, aka Ranger Anna said...

That's the coolest pellet I've ever seen! Most of the ones we see are the 'store bought' ones that come from birds that are captive for whatever reason. They just have little mouse-cicle bones in 'em.

I've found that my posts are best when I don't make myself do it. {Hence the B.W.O. Blogging Without Obligation sign... :)}

Relax and enjoy and go find some more pellets to show us.

KGMom said...

OK--now that was interesting...but, better you than me.
While I am curious, I can contain myself were I to find an owl pellet.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Marianne,
I was pretty lucky to find that pellet. I knew right away what it was and I'm glad it didn't get lost in my trunk!

Oh Donna, I'll admit it, I have a terminal case of nature nerd. LOL! (or just a really overwhelming sense of curiosity for gross stuff)

Taos Sunflower said...

Isn't this just so interesting? I had never seen these before this fall, when the park rangers at an estuary near our place in San Diego held an open house for the kids at Halloween...and lots of demonstrations and exhibits for kids. One of them was allowing the kids to disassemble these pellets and identify what was inside. I think I loved it more than the kids did!

RuthieJ said...

It really is pretty cool Martie! I think back to all the interesting natural places my parents took us when we were kids and I was pretty bored too. Now I wish I had the chance to visit them all again as an adult when I'm much more interested.