Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bundle of fur and bone.

I’m walking with son, on our way to the concrete “frog pond,” passing through the conifer forest, and I spy a smudge of grey fur, dotted with white bone fragments, amid the needles. Son is currently on a Birds of Prey kick, so I think he should be the one to discover it. Using my finely-honed interpretive skills, I say to him, “Hey, what’s this thing?”

He looks at it.

“Hmm,” I say, “a bundle of what looks like fur and bone...bones, fur, fur, bones, in a little bundle under a tree, could it be a...”

“Owl pellet!” he says.

“Yes!” A shiver of joy runs through me, a reaction to his joy in suddenly realizing that he is seeing and recognizing something as cool and telling as an owl pellet.

We reach for twigs and start poking.

Let's see. Leg bones and hip bone. The long bone is a tibia. The little "spur" on it is part of the fused fibula. The large bone at the top is part of the pelvic girdle; the round depression is where the head of the femur articulates.

And here's the lower jaw. Obviously a rodent with those long incisors, big diastema (gap) and three molars behind. The teeth are cuspidate (they have enamelled cusps like human teeth) rather than prismatic (what voles have, with triangles of dentine surrounded by ridges of enamel). So it's not a vole. It's probably a small rat.

Digging around a bit in the fur mass, we find another jaw and much of a skull. Back home, comparing these photos to images in field guides and online sources, I'm pretty sure it's a rat. Lord knows this island is crawling with Norway Rats (and probably Black Rats, too).

We've seen a Great-horned Owl in the same place, so that would be a likely source of the pellet, but Barred Owl is a possibility too.

The pellet, although somewhat disassembled, remains where we found it, for some other parent and child to share.


PSYL said...

Maybe your son knows more than me, but how do you tell a pellet is from an owl, a hawk, or an eagle?

One website just tells me that owl pellets contain more bones than other bird-of-preys', but that seems pretty arbitrary to me.


Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Okay, now I feel a little better about actualy buying owl poo for my middle son to disect in science class last year. I didn't get as much out of it as you did, however.

karen said...

What fun for both of you. I love sharing owl pellets when I do programs for the museum. Not as much fun as finding them in nature, but most of the kids really get into it and it's so fulfilling to share this knowledge and experience.

BerryBird said...

This reminds me of the time my sister and I thrilled upon what we thought was an owl pellet. We were quite young at the time, perhaps 4&6 or maybe 5&7. Filled with pride at our magnificent discovery, we rushed to show off our treasure to Mom and Dad, who had the unfortunate task of explaining that we had actually collected scat. Ooops.

Hugh said...


I have seen many, much older than you were, make the same mistake. Dried out coyote scat especially can look quite pellet-like.