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Jessi and Squeaks want to learn about what (and how) owls eat! Time to experiment!

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(0:05) You know that feeling when you learn about something, and then you just want to learn more and more and more?  Squeaks and I have been feeling that way ever since we started learning about owls.  We want to learn as much as we can about them, so today we thought we'd try and find the answer to one simple question about them: what do they eat and how do they eat it?  And there's one fun and fascinating way to learn what owls eat: by cutting open an owl pellet.

(0:31) What's an owl pellet?  Well, when we talk about how an animal eats, we're talking about their digestive system.  Digestion is how your body turns your food into energy.  Owls eat small animals like rodents, rabbits, shrews, and sometimes even other birds.  That's how they get their energy.

(0:48) But, unlike us, owls don't cook their food or cut it up with a knife and fork.  They can't even chew because they don't have any teeth!  So how do you think owls eat their prey?

[Squeaks squeaks]

(0:59) That's right, Squeaks--they eat it whole!  They might use their beaks to break it up a bit before they swallow it, but when an owl eats something, it just gulps down the whole thing.  They even swallow the parts of food that they can't digest.  We don't eat bones or teeth or hair or feathers because, well, that doesn't sound very good, but also because it wouldn't do us any good.  We can't digest those things, so our bodies can't turn them into energy.  And that's true for owls, too.  They can't digest bones, teeth, fur, or feathers.

(1:29) So what does an owl do with all those parts that we would leave on our plate?  Well, all birds have a special part of their digestive system called the gizzard, and it helps them either break down their food, like how we chew, or filter out what they can't digest.  In owls, their gizzard filters out all the things that they can't digest.  This way, they swallow the parts that are good for them, and they hold the other stuff like bones and fur in their gizzards.

(1:55) But what does it do with all the stuff that it can't digest?  Their gizzard compacts or squishes it together into a little pellet.  And when the gizzard is full, the owl regurgitates it or spits it up.  That little glob of bones and fur and other stuff is an owl pellet!  If you know where to look, you can sometimes find them in the woods or other places where owls nest.  Scientists love to find and study owl pellets because they can show them exactly what an owl has eaten.  So, are you ready to see exactly what an owl has eaten?

[Squeaks squeaks]

(2:26) Great!  We have a few owl pellets here, and we're going to dissect them.

(2:30) Dissection is a way to learn about something by cutting it open.  So let's start with this one and see what this particular owl ate.  We ordered our owl pellets from a science lab, and they sent us this bone chart with it so we can identify what we find.  Here's my dissection kit, and I'm going to carefully cut into this one.

(2:51) Alright, let's see what they ate.  Woah, cool!  Huh, what is this?  I'm going to compare it to all these bones on my chart, and it looks like the pelvic bone of a shrew.

(3:10) Alright, let's do this!  What is this one?  Let's compare it!  It looks like it might be a scapula of a mole.

(3:22) Alright, let's go for another one.  Oh, here we go.  Guys, I found something really cool.  This is a jaw bone, and you can actually see the front teeth right there and then all the tiny little molars right there.  That's awesome.

(3:44) If that was the jaw bone, I bet... There's more of it right here.  Squeaks, look at this.

[Squeaks squeaks]

(3:53) Guys, it's the skull of a rodent.  You can see its teeth right there, and these are where his eyes were.

(4:02) Wow, guys, so this owl ate a lot of things.  But we know that it ate a rodent because we found a rodent skull.  And we also know they ate a shrew because we found a shrew pelvic bone, and also a mole scapula.

(4:15) And now I'm curious what these other pellets have inside of them.  Should we keep dissecting, Squeaks?

[Squeaks squeaks]

(4:21) Sounds good!  Thanks for joining us, and a big thank you to Google Making Science for helping us make these episodes.  We're going to keep at it, and we'll post some pictures of what we find on our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  And in the meantime, if you have topics that you just want to learn more and more about, let us know!  Grab a grown-up and send us an email to  And we'll see you next time here at the fort.