Weekly Puzzler Answer #110

owl-2086A handful of people knew the answer to last week’s puzzler–were you one of them? The mystery “ball” was an owl pellet but I’m betting for some of you that doesn’t really answer the question. You may still be wondering what is an Owl pellet?

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A barred owl eating a crayfish.

When I’m doing programs with kids and I talk about owl pellets, most people in the audience think it’s owl poop. But that isn’t exactly correct. As you probably know, owls eat things like mice and voles and other small animals. Unlike other birds, they do not have a crop, which is the bag-like organ used to store food so they can digest it later. Instead owls’ food is swallowed whole and goes straight to their gizzard.  Know what a gizzard is? It’s an organ that uses bits of sand and digestive fluids to grind up and dissolve any unusable tissue from the animals they eat.

There is a lot of indigestible material like teeth, skulls, claws, feathers, fur, and bones. A hard pellet of this material is formed in the gizzard and then the owl regurgitates it–so it’s not poop because it comes out the mouth–not the butt!  In order for an owl to eat again, they must first get rid of the owl pellet. After feeding it can take 6 hours or more to form the pellet and owls expel one to two pellets after each night of hunting.

A burrowing owl

A burrowing owl

Owl pellets are full of information! Each one contains a window into the habits of the owl–the skulls and bones can be identified so you can learn exactly what the owl had for dinner. If you have kids or are a kid yourself and curious–this is a great thing to do! It’s interesting to dig through the pellet to see what it might contain.

Here you can see a rodent jaw bone

Here you can see a rodent jaw bone

Want to read more about owls? Click HERE or HERE to read about barred owls, or HERE to read about screech owls.

Or, click HERE to see what this week’s puzzler is.

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