Kids can learn about what preys owls eat and the food chain through this fun Owl Pellet Dissection activity! Don’t forget to download the free printable journal that helps guide your kids through this hands-on science experiment.
Have you ever found an owl pellet, perhaps under a tree? When you first see it, you might think it’s the owl’s feces. However, it is something so much cooler than that!
An owl pellet is the regurgitated indigestible part of an owl’s food. By dissecting an owl pellet, you can learn about the preys that the owl has been eating. And it’s amazing how many bones you can find in a small pellet!
You can do the owl pellet dissection activity as part of your unity study about owls or incorporate it in your lesson plan about food chains. Your preschoolers and kindergarteners can practice their fine motor skills by pulling the owl pellet apart and using tweezers to take out the bones. Elementary school kids or older students can closely examine the bones to determine what animals the bones are from and identify the names of the bones.
I made a journal with this owl pellet dissection lab so your kids can follow the worksheets as a guide for the activity. Scroll to the bottom of the post to learn how to download the free printable journal.
What is an Owl Pellet?
Unlike us, most birds like owls can’t chew their food. As a result, they usually swallow their prey whole.
The food passes directly from the owl’s mouth to an organ called a gizzard. The gizzard breaks down the muscle, fat, skin, and internal organs for digestion. However, the gizzard is unable to digest the fur and bones of the animals. Several hours after the owl has eaten its preys, it will regurgitate the indigestible parts as an oval-shaped pellet.
Where Do I Get an Owl Pellet?
You can certainly go to the owl’s habitat and search for owl pellets under the trees, but I do not recommend it! The owl pellets you find in nature look a lot like poop, and you may accidentally pick up the droppings of another animal instead. An owl pellet also may contain bacteria and Salmonella that can make you really sick.
Therefore, I recommend getting owl pellets that have been sterilized and safe for human handling. We used this barn owl pellet kit that came with the owl pellet, a dissection pick, a tweezer, and a bone chart with our homeschool group and it turned out great for everyone.
How to Do Your Own Owl Pellet Dissection
- Barn owl pellet kit
- Paper plate
- Small plastic bag
- Free Owl Pellet Dissection Journal
- Optional: gloves*
* The owl pellets in the kits are sterilized and safe to handle. However, for younger kids, you may still want to have them wear gloves since they may put their fingers in their mouths. Some kids may want gloves just because they don’t want to touch the owl pellet and the bones.
1. Open the barn owl pellet kit and take out all the contents. Place the owl pellet on the paper plate with the tools. Open up the bone chart so that you can use it to identify the bones as you find them.
2. Unwrap the owl pellet and make some observations. What color and shape is the pellet? Use a ruler to determine the length and width of the pellet. Make sure you keep the owl pellet and its contents on the paper plate to keep the surface clean.
3. Use the pick to gently break open the owl pellet and use the tweezer to carefully pick up the bones you see.
4. Examine the bones closely and use the bone chart to identify whether they came from a bird, vole, or mouse.
5. When you are done picking apart the pellets and separating the bones, you can try reassembling the skeletons of the animals you find. You can tell what bones they are by looking at the shape of the bones. How many bones did you find in total?
6. If you would like to keep the bones, you can put them all in a plastic bag for more observations later. Throw away everything else and wash your hands.
I highly recommend doing this owl pellet activity with your kids multiple times because you never know what you will find in the pellets. One pellet we had contained all small bones and no skulls, while another one contained 4 skulls. We also had one with a huge skull of a vole.
Out of all the science experiments we did as kids, the owl pellet dissection lab was probably the most memorable. I was so happy to see that you can buy the sterilized barn owl pellet so easily now so that homeschool kids can get a chance to participate in this fun activity.
If your kids never seen an owl regurgitating a pellet, here is a cool video of a barred owl chick throwing one up!
Free Printable Owl Pellet Dissection Journal
Here is the form to download the Owl Pellet Dissection Journal if you haven’t done so yet! It contains helpful worksheets to guide your child through the activity. The worksheets have spaces for younger kids to draw their observations or alternatively, for older kids to write what bones they found.
To assemble the journal, simply fold all the pages using the crease line in the center of each page. The folded edge of the front cover and back page should be on your left. The folded edges of the rest of the inner pages should be on your right. Insert the inner pages in the cover and back page (check to make sure the pages are in the right order) and staple the journal together on the left edge.