In today’s lesson, students learned about the wonderful world of owls! These raptors, or birds of prey, come in all shapes and sizes and have a few adaptations that make them excellent hunters. One adaptation is that they have amazing eyesight that allows them to see in the dark from far distances, making nocturnal hunting easier. They also have keen hearing, which is amplified by feathers that surround their face. Owl ear openings are unevenly located in their skulls allowing them to precisely locate prey in the dark and owl feathers are designed to make virtually no sound when they fly, which allows them to sneak up on their prey.
When owls eat their prey, they swallow the whole body instead of chewing it like we do because they have no teeth. The nutritious parts of their catch are digested while the indigestible parts like bones and fur are compressed into a pellet, which is regurgitated by the owl when it is ready to eat again. In our activity today, the students had an opportunity to dissect an owl pellet and examine the bones and fur inside. Students were surprised at how thin and delicate the animal bones were and had to work carefully to clean them without damage. Students were able to identify what prey animal the skull belonged to by observing its characteristics on a skull identification chart. They also identified other bones in their pellet by matching them to a skeleton chart. Ask your student what kind of prey their owl had that day!
Want to dissect an owl pellet for yourself? You can perform a virtual dissection by going here.
Interested in where owls have been sighted nearby? Check out California eBird for information on owls– and other birds, too! All About Birds also has great bird identification information, recordings of bird calls and songs, and even a link to a live barn owl camera!
Curious about skulls? Animal Diversity Web has a great skull photos, as well as a wealth of other information about some of owls’ common prey items. Search for animals such as the deer mouse (it’s Latin name is Peromyscus maniculatus), pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae), or shrew (Sorex) to see pictures of prey species that students found in their pellets.