Owls!

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 a cone of feathers that surrounds 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!

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Additional Information:

Want to dissect an owl pellet for yourself? You can perform a virtual dissection by going here.

You can find out all about the species of owls that live in Massachusetts and hear their calls by visiting here.

 

 

Author

Dr. Maureen Griffin

Maureen earned a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003. While at Penn, she developed a novel micro-mechanical technique called micropipette peeling to investigate the role of muscle cell adhesion in normal and diseased skeletal muscle cells. After graduating, Maureen worked full time as a post-doctoral researcher and then a staff scientist a SelectX Pharmaceuticals. She joined the teaching staff in 2008 and was excited to be made an executive staff member in 2009. Maureen also continued to consult part time for SelectX until her daughter's birth in 2009; now she is focused on Science from Scientists and, of course, her children. Maureen uses her spare time to read, blog, cook, and renovate her house.

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