Our 5th grade classes have been using investigation techniques as junior ornithologists to inquire about owls and their prey. We have spent a great deal of time learning about ecosystems and many of the organisms within our 6 world biomes. One common bird found around the world in many biomes is the owl.
Owl, like most birds, cannot chew their food. They swallow their prey whole. An owl’s food passes directly from their mouth to their gizzard. The gizzard uses digestive fluids and bits of sand and gravel to grind and dissolve the useless tissue from its prey.
Some tissue that was unable to be broken down into nutritional items by the owl's gizzard could not be digested. The indigestible material remaining in the owl’s gizzard, such as teeth, skulls, claws, fur, and feathers, were too dangerous to pass through the rest of the owl's digestive tract. To safely rid the body of this material, the owl's gizzard squeezed these items into a pellet. The pellet formed by the owl’s gizzard was regurgitated. These pellets are known as owl pellets.
Students were excited to discover the many bones of various tiny creatures eaten by owls. The students worked in collaborative partnerships to dissect an owl pellet and match the bones, such as ribs, scapula, jaw, skull, vertebrae, hind and forelimbs to bone charts. The students discovered a mixture of many small animals in each pellet. Some pellets contained bones of a shrew and a mole or a small bird and a house mouse. Our students learned a great deal about food chains and predator verses prey. The hands-on learning was extremely engaging and enlightening.