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Owls are fascinating creatures. Owls are typically nocturnal, meaning they are awake at night, and they typically have excellent eyesight in order to hunt their prey in the dark. Many owls feed on furry animals such as rats, moles, squirrels, and rabbits, but their diet can also include insects, worms, fish, frogs, and lizards.
Owls generally swallow their prey whole. However, they are not able to digest certain parts of their prey, including bones, teeth, claws, and fur. Therefore, after owls eat their prey, their stomach packs the undigested parts into a ball called a “pellet” that gets spit, or cast, back up. Owls generally cast one to two pellets a day.
Dissecting an owl pellet allows us to learn about the owl’s diet. This is a great way for kids to learn about owls and to get their first experience with dissection.
Note: For more kid-friendly science activities, see my Science Activities for Kids page.
Preparing to dissect an owl pellet
I have to thank one of the first homeschooling families I ever met for introducing me to the idea of dissecting an owl pellet. Her kindergarten-age son was learning about owls, so she had ordered an owl pellet for him online and they dissected it at home.
Until that point, it never occurred to me that such a thing would be possible outside of a regular school classroom, and I was intrigued. So now that my kids are older, we finally had the opportunity ourselves to dissect an owl pellet, and it was an incredible learning experience.
I ordered two owl pellets, one for each of my children. (If you are buying for a classroom you might prefer this set of 20 pellets.)
To prepare ourselves for the dissection, we first learned a bit about what owl pellets are. I found three video resources online that I showed to my kids:
- A song about owl pellets
- A video of an owl regurgitating a pellet
- A video clip from a 1980s Nickelodeon show showing a girl dissecting an owl pellet
Once we had watched the videos, I gathered the materials we need:
- A tray to hold each child’s materials
- A magnifying glass
- An owl pellet
- A paint brush to remove small debris
- Stick (included with our owl pellet kit)
- A glove (optional)
Dissecting an owl pellet
We started by taking the owl pellet out of its foil.
It was interesting to note how furry it was. And how tightly packed it was.
Because of how tightly packed it was, the kids initially chose to use the sticks to poke at the pellet and break it apart for further inspection.
Eventually, they were able to extract smaller parts, including bones. They used brushes to clear all fur and debris from the bones.
I encouraged them to lay all their bones out onto a separate sheet of paper so we could easily see what kinds of bones they had found.
My son was lucky to find a good skull specimen in his pellet.
We used the literature included in our kit to determine that his owl had eaten a vole.
My daughter did not find a skull, but she still found plenty of other bones. We were able to identify rib bones, leg bones, and vertebrae. Fascinating!
Looking for more activities that incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM)? Then you’ll love STEAM Kids! This book features 52 hands-on activities that are helpfully identified by subject so you know exactly what skills your kids are developing.
Grab a copy of the print book on Amazon or the e-book delivered as a PDF download (or this e-book for EU residents).
More owl learning resources
More posts about owls from Gift of Curiosity:
Note: For more fun ways to do science with your kids, see my science activities for kids page and my Science Pinterest board.
I do this activity every year with my 4 year old class. I have found however that after examining the dry pellet if we soak it in warm water for several minutes it is much easier to extract the bones without breaking them. It is a messy activity. 🙂 After the bones are dry we glue them on the bone chart near the picture that most resembles the bone and I hang this up for the children to observe for a few weeks along with pictures I took of them finding the bones. They love reliving the activity by going over the pictures of themselves.
Thank you for sharing your experience with owl pellet dissection. I love some of the things you’ve done to make this a great experience for your kids.