Dissecting owl pellets is a fun and educational method of analyzing predator/prey relationships and for learning basic dissection techniques.
What is an Owl Pellet?
An owl pellet is the portion of an owl’s prey that has not been digested. Owl’s swallow their prey whole (they don’t have teeth to chew) and the feather’s, fur, bones and other undigestible parts are regurgitated by the owl.
How Does the Owl Pellet Form?
When the prey is swallowed, it travels through the esophagus and into the first part of the stomach, the proventriculus. Unlike other birds, the owl does not have a crop to store the food. As a result, the prey enters directly into the digestive tract. This part of the stomach has enzymes and acids (like our stomachs) to aid in digestion. From the proventriculus, the food travels to the second part of the stomach, the gizzard. The gizzard is a muscular organ that grinds the food and “filters” undigestible parts from traveling into the intestines.
The pellet is formed from the hair, bones or feathers that are left in the gizzard. The pellet will take several hours to form and several more before it is regurgitated. The owl cannot eat again until this pellet is expelled.
Does the Regurgitation of the Pellet Benefit the Owl?
Yes. Many scientists believe that this regurgitation of the pellet keeps the upper digestive tract clean.