“Got to pick a pellet or two”

When our wonderful friend, Nic decided to leave the teaching profession in June, she must’ve breathed a sigh of relief as she closed her science text books for the last time and said goodbye to her final class of students. Little did she know, that less than two months later she would be taking a dissection lesson at Fishponds.

This time, however, the students weren’t cramming for their a-levels, but were two excited nine year olds.

When Maddie saw Nic briefly a week after she arrived back from Vietnam, she managed to persuade her to help in the dissection of an owl pellet. And she’s talked about little else since. So when Nic arrived last week with surgical gloves and tweezers, Maddie was beside herself with excitement. The fact that her friend Lawrence was here for the day only added to the hype.

Before Nic even had a chance to sit down and drink a coffee, they’d dragged her down to the barn to collect specimens.

pellet 1  pellet 3

I set up a small table in the garden and the lesson began.

First, they soaked the owl pellets in a bowl of water and disinfectant. The pellets were ready for dissection once they’d sunk to the bottom of the bowl.

pellet 2

And then the fun began.

Maddie and Lawrence sat for about an hour, under the expert guidance of Nic, carefully picking apart the pellets. They felt like real scientists as they put on the surgical gloves and used tweezers and toothpicks to carefully examine the pellets. And I have to say, that even I was impressed with their findings.

pellet 4


pellet 5

Each pellet must have contained about twenty recognisable bones. There were skulls and ribs and legs. Each was carefully identified using the chart Nic had brought with her. Maddie also tells me that they found moth caterpillars, which actually live in the pellet once it has been ejected.

Some of the skulls had red dots on the teeth. Maddie and Lawrence surmised that this was blood, but actually they were shrew skulls. Apparantly, all shrews have red edges to their teeth. Next time, Bramble or Pixie bring one into the house I will try and confirm this.

pellet 8 pellet 7

It was heartening to see that all the bones belonged to rodents. There were no bird skulls that they could see so I am happy to say that our bird feeders are not luring the unsuspecting finches to a grisly end. But instead, with the efforts of the barn owl and our cats, we are keeping the rodent population under control and I will have no need to call on a pest control service.

Our barn owl hasn’t been seen for a few weeks so there haven’t been any new owl pellets for a while. However, the kestrels are still resident and presumably leaving their pellets somewhere, so Nic can look forward to another dissection lesson when she’s back from Angola at Christmas!

pellet 6

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