Hoo barfed?

Hoo barfed?

Hoo barfed?

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 8 2010 7:56 AM

Hoo barfed?

It's Caturday, which on my blog I've expanded to anything I feel like in the animal kingdom. Last week it was owls, and this is a followup.

I talked about the Great Horned Owl babies we saw in a tree stump along a creek near our house. Well, after school this week The Little Astronomer and I biked over to check them out, and one of them was out of the nest! It was on a branch with one of the parents, and they were sharing a meal. I suppose the Elder Owl was teaching its young paduwan how to eat. I'm not sure, but from 20 meters away I definitely saw something nasty hanging out of the youngling's beak. Bigger than a mouse, so maybe a rat or some other smallish rodent.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Advertisement

The other, smaller baby was still in the nest. Sometimes, the smaller, weaker chick is killed by its bigger sibling, but this one looks healthy enough, just a bit smaller. I expect it'll be out of the nest next time we check on it.

I've noticed that one of the parent owls sometimes likes to sit on one particular branch of a tree across the path from the stump. It wasn't there that day, so on TLA's suggestion we went over and started poking around under the branch. After about a minute, she found what she was looking for: owl pellets. Owls eat their prey either whole or tear it into parts, but their digestion isn't a complete process. A little while after an owl eats, it regurgitates a little bolus of bones, fur, and other indigestibles. Yum! And did I say "small"? Yeah, not so much:

owlpellets

Mrs. BA and TLA dissected the pellet, and that's what you see there (I looked it up, and it's safe enough to do, though sterilization is usually recommended). The pellet is about 10 centimeters long, 2 wide, and grey. That's pretty big for an owl! The ladies worked on separating out the various, um, things in the pellets. After some careful investigative procedures, they found these:

Advertisement

owlpellets_detail

The thing on the left looks like part of a skull, though it's hard to tell. Eventually, TLA found a little jaw bone, but it was hard to tell what it used to belong to. Something rodentlike and small is about all we could say.

I'm pretty proud of her, I have to say. She enjoys science, though of course at school it sometimes can be a little dry. But on her own initiative she enthusiastically and excitedly pursued science out in the field. Yeah, I know, it's a squishy science, but still.

It's spring in Boulder, and the trees, flowers, and other assorted plants are in serious bloom and smell fantastic. If the weather's nice, then I think another trip to the creek is definitely in order.