What are owl pellets?

Watch a Barn Owl regurgitate (cough up) an owl pellet in this video:

Female barn owl regurgitates owl pellet – video from Audubon Starr Ranch, Ca

Facts about owl pellets

Signs Pellets Variety Birds

A variety of bird pellets. What might the birds eat?

  • Pellets are the undigested parts of a bird’s food, such as hair or bones, which are regurgitated (coughed up through the beak).
  • Many kinds of birds produce pellets including birds of prey, crows and even sparrows. The appearance depends on what they eat.
  • All owls produce pellets and dissecting them is a great way to find out what different owls eat!
  •  Owl pellets are not droppings – and they do not smell!
  • Barn Owl pellets are black when fresh and gradually turn grey as they dry out.
  • Barn Owl pellets are fascinating to investigate and analyse – be a scientist, by gently pulling the pellet apart to see what it is made from. Record your findings in a notebook with drawings or photos. Why do you think there is a ruler in the photo of a Field Vole skull?
Field Vole Skull Top

Bone identification for owl pellet analysis – Field Vole skull.

  • Wild Barn Owls in the UK feed mainly on voles, shrews and mice, which are usually swallowed whole.
  • Barn Owl pellets contain the undigested fur and bones of as many as 6 small mammals!
    • Occasionally, very unusual remains may be found such as moles or frogs.
  • You can identify what animal the bones came from by looking at the skull and measuring the jaw bones.
  • Bird bones and even bird rings are sometimes found too. A Barn Owl pellet from Essex contained a BTO ring that had been fitted to a wren in Northumberland – 300 miles away!
Science Barn Owl Pellets

Barn Owl pellet dissection for kids – free* PDF to download

  • How to dissect and analyse a Barn Owl pellet: Download a free* Barn Owl pellet analysis worksheet – (Suitable for use in schools.)
    *Free for personal and educational use only – copyright Barn Owl Trust.
  • Buy a pellet dissection pack direct from the Barn Owl Trust – everything you need, including a real Barn Owl pellet for you to dissect!
Pellet Dissection Analysis

Dissecting Barn Owl pellets