Get some owl pellets if you want to gross out kids, and in the process teach some valuable lessons. There's nothing like gross to spark some interest among the younger set.

What are owl pellets anyway? Well they are are not that gross!

They are vomit.

Well actually they are not that either. The owl does release the pellet from its mouth. but it's not as if the owl was so disgusted at its diet that it threw up.....It's not that gross either. Owl pellets are in fact Carefully Regurgitated Animal Parts. Spell it out for the kids, a giggle never hurts.


The owl takes great care not to allow the sharp jagged little bones of its prey into the lower parts of its intestines. The owl's stomach rolls them around until the meat is gone. Then they are sent to a special kind of stomach called a gizzard. There they are compressed and wrapped in fur and feathers before being carefully regurgitating back up the owls throat and into the economy.


Of course if you are a teacher you will well understand the meaning of regurgitation and can no doubt explain it better than I. For everyone else, I'll describe it as a controlled up-chuck. Some birds do it to feed their young. It's their answer to not having hands or a backpack. They carry food back to the nest in their stomach and then deliver it already partly digested to their enthusiastic, completely ungrossed out, chicks. In the case of owl pellets the controlled up-chucking is to get rid of the inedible bits.

Animal Parts

Now this is where the learning can really begin. Picking apart the owl pellets requires all the gentle persistence that the word dissect engenders and brings the dissector into contact with a myriad of tiny bones, beaks and beetle shells all cleaned by the digestive juices so that they can be viewed in exceptional clarity. Sure you can see diagrams and pictures of tiny mammal skeletons. maybe even real ones in glass cases. But hands on discovery brings the grim reality of the natural world, the owls life and the lives of its prey into focus like no book or strung together skeleton.

Where to find owl pellets.

It would be nice to say that owl pellets can easily be found. But that's not really the case. Owls are pretty secretive creatures when it comes to their roosts and nesting sites. Larger owls that produce the best pellets can also be quite aggressive towards humans especially in the summer when they may have chicks close by. If you happen to know a barn with a barn owl in it then you may find lots of pellets. However, if the pellets are not sterilized, before being dissected there is a chance of serious illness, notably from the Hanta virus that is sometimes found in mice.

Sterilized Owl pellets

As I said the owls pellets are sometimes up-chucked right into the economy. Actually there is quite a vigorous little micro industry centered around owl pellets. Very sustainable providing the owls and their habitat are sustained. There are a number of companies that offer sterilized owl pellets, and the easiest place to find owl pellets is on the internet.

You can buy them in large amount packages for schools and as single pellets for the parent who just wants to put one in a Christmas stocking or perk up an Easter egg hunt. Most seem to be Barn Owl pellets probably because they are most easily collected. Great Horned Owl pellets are the deluxe version. Prices vary with pellet prices generally ranging from about a dollar for a small pellet up to five dollars for a really gross one with a couple of little skeleton heads poking from it.

There's also a fair amount of pellet paraphernalia. Toolkits for dissecting, identification aids and displays of perfect dissections are all available to help in the shift from gross to knowledge.