Owl Pellet Discovery Day

Table displaying samples of owl pellet and their contents

Searching for the bones of voles, shrews, and mice in regurgitated owl pellets might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for the enthusiastic group we welcomed to the Braunton Countryside Centre on 8th April, it was an afternoon well spent!

Learning about owls and their diets

Local bird expert, Martin Unwin, started the session with an insightful talk about owls and their diets. These magnificent birds have an appetite for a variety of small mammals including the Wood Mouse, Short-tailed Field Vole, and Common Shrew. Unlike, for example, humans eating a piece of fish, owls do not take the time to pick out bones from their meals – they swallow their prey whole. Fortunately, these extraordinary animals have a unique digestive system. Owls have two chambers in their stomachs, and so they can regurgitate any indigestible parts of their food, such as bones, beaks, and fur. It can take up to 10 hours for owls to fully digest their meal and produce a pellet; during this time, they cannot eat anything else.

Presentation on screen about owl diets and the contents of owl pellets



Dissecting owl pellets

After learning many fun facts about these well-loved birds (check out a few of our top facts below!) and their favourite food, Martin led our enthusiastic group to a workshop to dissect owl pellets he collected from a local roost. With microscopes, gloves and tweezers at the ready, the group wasted no time diving into the dissection. The pellets were packed with all sorts of bones, which the group carefully removed and identified with the help of Martin and some useful worksheets. During this slightly grisly treasure hunt, everyone was particularly focused on finding remains of the Common Shrew. These remains can be identified by the red deposits on the teeth, resulting from the presence of iron in the tooth enamel. After a few false alarms, someone in the group found the teeth of the Common Shrew – a truly exciting find and a wonderful way to end the session!

Local bird expert showing mammal bones found in an owl pellet under a microscope

We are grateful for everyone’s enthusiasm at this inspiring event. Thank you also to Martin for sharing his expertise with the group. We would also like to extend our thanks to the parents and guardians who attended the event, and (perhaps reluctantly) went home with a makeshift container full of small mammal bones!

Group of children and adults dissecting owl pellets Fun facts from our Owl Pellet Discovery Day:

  • Owl pellets may contain bones, fur, feathers, claws, teeth and beaks
  • Using a powerful microscope, in pellets produced by Little Owls, you might see tiny hairs from earthworms – a favourite treat for this owl species.
  • Starlings, Kingfishers and a variety of wading birds also produce pellets
  • Fox and badger droppings closely resemble owl pellets

Check out our Events Calendar for more events and activities.

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