Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

January 8, 2015
Owl pellets may contain skulls of rodents, birds and other devoured prey

Owls, as well as other bird species, are known to occasionally or habitually regurgitate parts of undigested foods, which are called pellets.

Pellets are known to contain various fragments, including bones, fur, feathers, bird bills, skulls, claws, teeth and plants. In the wild, pellets are likely to contain the remains of rodents and other creatures and they may carry certain viruses and bacteria. It is suggested to not handle pellets from the wild without precautions or necessary supplies. As an alternative, owl pellets sell online for children’s school projects and can be safely examined because they are professionally sterilized.

Owls, unlike most birds, have no crop. A crop is a sac-like organ located in the throat used for storing swallowed food for later digestion. Because owls lack this crop, the food they consume goes directly to their gizzard, also known as their digestive system, muscular stomach or ventriculus. Also, because owls have weak stomach acids, they can only digest particular tissues such as fat, skin, muscle and organs. Bones and other residue left in the gizzard are eventually packed into a pellet and then later regurgitated.

Although owls are not the only fowl that vomit pellets, theirs differ from others because they cannot digest the bone materials due to their weak digestive fluids. Eagles and other raptor birds, however, not only pick and shred their prey into smaller bits to swallow, but they have stronger stomach acids that are generally capable of digesting smaller bones. Owl pellets are larger in size because they typically swallow their prey whole, whereas raptor pellets are smaller and contain less animal remains.

Many owl pellets conceal the skulls of the creatures that they have devoured. Other species of birds that can create pellets include eagles, falcons (pellets are called castings), crows, gulls, herons, hawks, terns, kingfishers, jays, dippers, shrikes and swallows. Owl pellets are mainly found under trees and common perch places.

 

Taylor Lindsay is a writer and photographer of wildlife creatures big and small. She can be reached at CritterChatter@live.com.

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