Watch a Barn Owl regurgitate (cough up) an owl pellet in this video:
Facts about owl pellets
- 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 (faeces / poo) – 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?
- 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!
- For more information about small mammal bones an old, but very good book is: Mammals of Britain, Their Tracks, Trails and Signs by Lawrence & Brown.
- 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!