Kid Science: Owl Pellet Dissection

Owls are fascinating creatures.  They have a special organ (gizzard) that stores the undigestible parts of their prey, preventing these parts (bones, teeth, fur, feathers) from proceeding through the digestive tract.  The gizzard compresses these parts into a pellet which is later regurgitated.  This is a pretty simplistic explanation.  If you’d like to learn more, check out this page from the website, The Owl Pages,… Digestion in Owls.  A cool way to teach kids about what owls eat and how they digest their food is to have them do a pellet dissection.  Really, it isn’t all that yucky, and most kids find it fascinating.

One of the East Bay Regional Parks naturalists was super kind to give my son a couple pellets she had on hand for him to dissect.  My son was totally focused on the task, excited with each tiny mouse bone he found.  Here are a few photos from his dissection today..

Owl Pellets 016

Owl Pellets 010

Owl Pellets 019

Owl Pellets 015

Owl Pellets 027

Interested in doing an owl pellet dissection?  Here are a couple great resources…


  1. it is super to see the fabulous experiences you do with your son Linda! It brough back memories of when a wildlife biologist did ‘owl pellets’ investigations with my Year 2 class one year – the 7-8 year olds were enthralled… and I was too! The small bones and tiny whole bones amazed us. The children’s drawings after the exploration were fabulous too. Great post!


  2. FYI, if during the dissection you find teeth that have a purple tint to them, then what the owl ate is not a mouse, but a shrew. Shrew have a neurotoxin in their glands that stun and paralyze their pray. This neurotoxin stains their teeth purple and is apparent even after death. The owl’s stomach is immune to such toxins. It is always fun to find those purple teeth in the mix of other bones.


  3. I did this with my third graders while I was teaching. It was amazing to watch the kids reconstruct the skeletons. Will definitely have to give it a go with my own littles!


  4. Owl pellets are fascinating. I have had one once in my life, and my daughter and I dissected it. We sort of “put the mouse together” and learned alot about the structure of a mouse. I have a friend who sells the pellets she finds on Etsy! They sell fairly quickly.


  5. It’s great that your son found it to be so interesting. I would assume that all birds of prey cough up pellets. I wonder how you can tell an owl pellet from a hawk pellet. Or maybe I’m wrong about all birds of prey having to do this.


      1. For a while we were getting pellets on our roof, and I couldn’t bring myself to get out a ladder and climb out on the roof to see what they were. I had kind of been thinking they might be hawk pellets because I occasionally see these.


          1. All raptors will make pellets. However, rarely are pellets as big as owl pellets. Kites and Osprey will tear their pellets apart during the early spring. Then they will crush the small bones with their beaks and swallow them again. When these smaller bones are digested the second time, they disintegrate. The purpose behind this is that the females are adding calcium to their diets. The calcium is needed for egg production. Since raptors are usually in pairs (male and female), the female has the ability to consume from both the male’s and female pellets. Kites (Snail Kites) also crush the shells of snails for the added calcium needs.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s