Hooray, we are “experimenting” with having a science program every month! I proposed an owl pellet dissection because I remember doing it in school and having a lot of fun with it. And despite what people claim, it is not very stinky.
To prepare for the program I ordered 20 small barn owl pellets. I saved a little money by ordering on Amazon and getting a “used” product with previously opened packaging. The owl pellets were all intact, but I shaved a third off my price by ordering that specific product. I also got tweezers from the dollar store because the electronics/automotive section has a set of 4 for $1. Of course they are not super awesome quality but they are good enough for the kids to use for the program. I also set out Dixie cups of water and 8.5×11 placemats for people to use as their working area.
I printed out a booklet for each participant asking them to do some basic things like measure the pellet, guess how many bones were inside, etc. I also printed out a bone identification chart and a skeleton chart of a rat, bird, and mole. If I did this program again I might just print rats and have the bird and mole as backups as everyone had rat skulls in this batch.
The night started with a little presentation I put together that talked about owl digestion, the gizzard, and how and why owls form pellets. I found a video on YouTube that showed a handler feeding an owl a mouse. I told people ahead of time that we would watch the owl eat the mouse in case they wanted to close their eyes but no one was squeamish enough to look away. In fact the kids were really into the video despite me having technical difficulties with the sound.
A few minutes into the program a woman from the local paper showed up to take pictures, which was quite exciting for me as it was my first experience with the paper. I tried to frame my questions so the kids were looking excited and the photographer could get some more dynamic shots. When we started taking the pellets apart the kids were really into it. There were lots of outbursts of things like “I found a toe!” And “look I found a skull and it has teeth!”
Interestingly enough every single person severely underestimated the number of bones they would find. I had stressed that a pellet would often contain at least one skull if not more so this surprised me. Most people took at least 35 minutes to hunt through the pellet for bones. I was able to wander from table to table to help with trying to identify bones and just checking in with the kids.
Activity: Owl Digestion Slideshow & Video
Activity: Owl Pellet Dissection