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Owl pellets - how to study their contents

Long-eared owl perched on branch of silver birch tree

Find out what this long-eared owl has eaten by examining its pellets

Image: Chris Gomersall

Most birds produce pellets. The more indigestible material there is in the food, the more pellets are produced. The best known birds that produce pellets are the owls and the daytime-hunting birds of prey (raptors). Owl pellets are the easiest to find and study, because they often collect beneath a favoured feeding post or roost.

Pellets are small, sausage-shaped objects, containing the undigested parts of the birds food which are ejected through the mouth. Pellets do not pass through the intestine of birds and are quite different from droppings. They do not smell, and are not unpleasant to work with. They consist of things like the bones of birds, mammals and fish, teeth, claws and beaks, insect head parts and wing cases, seed husks etc. These are usually enclosed by softer material like fur, feathers and vegetable fibre.