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Owl Pellets? What the...???

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
Ok, so I check the mail the other day and find our new catalog from a insect supplier. My oldest daughter has expressed interest in disecting some owl pellets! ( as in regurgitated fur and bones of critters the owl has eaten)

Has anyone ever done this? While I want to encourage her curiosity, I don't know if there is a health issue to be had here? I would think that if there was a real danger they wouldn't be allowed to sell these kits, but then again, who knows?

I thought it would be interesting to get some input from other mom's here, maybe a mom closer to nature than I am?

What would Louis Pasteur's mom do?:
post #2 of 15
she'd dissect the owl pellets and wash your hands after.
post #3 of 15
I know a few homeschoolers who've dissected owl pellets on newspapers at their kitchen table. And had a lot of fun doing it!

Like Clarity said, if you just wash up afterwards, I don't think there'd be much of a health problem.
post #4 of 15
more seriously there are only two illnesses birds carry, neither of which are likely. The droppings being dry are unlikely to carry any illnesses either. I would not powder the dropping so they were inhalable, and if you're really paranoid, wear a mask. But honestly, as someone dealing with both live birds and mice right now, you don't have much to worry about.
post #5 of 15
We've done it a couple of times - great fun and very interesting!
post #6 of 15
We went to a program at a bird rescue center where we went searching for owl pellets the kids absolutely loved it!
As nasty as it seems to us- you always see naturalists diggin through poo, so I doubt that any special care (other than a thorough washing) is required with this.
post #7 of 15
We have done this with pellets that we got from a silo where barn owls were living. We froze the pellets before picking them apart. When you buy pellets from a commercial source I believe they are sterilized (not sure how, I'm sure you could ask.) We had some bone charts that helped identify what the bones were (vole skull, mouse hip bone, etc) that really enhanced the education value of the dissection. I could scan one and send it to you if your catalog does not have them. This really is an interesting activity, I did it with a bunch of little girls many years ago and they were totally into it--every one of them got a skull in their pellets! Some tweezers and something to poke around with are helpful. Have fun!
post #8 of 15
Thread Starter 
I think it's cool how many of you have done this!

We actually went thru the "I want some owl pellets" last year and I avoided the issue. Shame on me!

I think my daughter is a little braver than I am when it comes to dealing with critters. In the back of my mind I'm always thinking about what kind of cooties they could end up getting.
Being pg now, I can't even feed the poor cat because I can't cope with the look or smell of her chow. I'm willing to give this a try, I just had no idea what I might be in for!

ok, here goes....
post #9 of 15
We've did this last fall! It was way cool and we will do it again next year.

The pellets have been treated (I can't remember how) to kill anything that might make us ill. The pellets aren't gross -- they are nothing like poop at all. It is just bones and fur. They are totally dry. There isn't any smell. The child uses tweezers or small wooden probes to pick the the fur off the bones, and then tries to match up the bones with ones on a bone chart to figure out what the owl ate. My 6 year old had a great time and could figure every pellet out. My 4 year old thought it was way cool, but didn't care about matching up the bones with the chart.

The kids didn't think it was the less bit gross, they just found it very interesting. I thought it would be gross before I saw the pellets, but it wasn't. I do admit that I scrubbed the table with fantastic afterward and washed the kids hands about 10 times. I think I'll be a bit calmer next time.

A really nice go along for this is the book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. It won a Caldecott and your library should have it.
post #10 of 15
Just thought I'd point out that owl pellets aren't poop. Since owls swallow their food whole, they digest what they can, and the indigestible bits (that won't break down to semiliquid to pass through the intestines) are vomited back up as pellets.
So they're actually owl vomit.
post #11 of 15
I've done it as a teacher of middle schoolers. It is very cool. They are sterilized if you have purchased through scientific suppliers. The bones of the mice/voles/whatever can be reassembled to form a mostly complete skeleton. Their bones are very similar in shape to human bones and it is interesting to see the similarities between ourselves and the mice. . .do it!
post #12 of 15
Wow! These sound so cool. I'm going to order some for my kids right away. Thanks for the info!
post #13 of 15
A bunch of hsers we get together with did this last year as a group activity and all the kids who did it were very excited and animated about it afterward. Neither of my kids was interested at the time but we will be doing it this year. We listened to the audiobook Poppy by Avi and that got my dd interested in owl pellets as this is mentioned in the story. My only problem with this story is that it's one of those that gives the animals characteristics of humans (greed, avarice, desire to control others, bravery, etc) but that did make for good conversation about dramatic license and how authors often write stories lor movies like that (Lion King) to help us identify with the characters, and questioning if animals in real life are really like that, etc.

I have a friend who collects owl pellets locally so we may use those; I'd like to know where to get hold of the charts you all have mentioned though. Can anyone tell me where to do that?

post #14 of 15
If you order from a scientific supply house they also have the charts for identifying which type of bone it is (snake, bird, vole, mouse, rat.etc.) as well as how to sort and assemble, and background info.
post #15 of 15
When I worked in public school as a teacher assistant, the district sent in a "specialist" who actually brought in pellets and the students tried to reconstruct the "mouse", i.e., teeth, skull, spine, ribs, legs, claws, hips. There is also the hair.

They glued them on paper and displayed them on the bulletin board.

I thought it was rather macabre at the time, but it is nature and nature can be cruel. I really do not know what to think about it. I never did this w/ my own children except to see it in a book or in a video.

Your tax dollars at work.
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