Owl Puke (FLWCRNC)
This is a hands-on, “down and dirty” program centered on owls. Participants will learn about the general biology of these amazing animals, including where they live, what they eat, how they use their senses and other physical attributes to hunt their prey. Participants will get up close with live education animals so they can learn about owls’ “leftovers.”
5 - 12
Indoor or outdoor classroom
Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center, Jonesboro
Education Program Coordinator, 870-933-6787
Suggested Number of Participants:
Must have a minimum of 25 students; one adult for every 5 students. (For smaller groups, call for more information.)
- Identify physical characteristics of raptors.
- Identify different raptor species in Arkansas.
- Discuss how raptors live, their basic biology and their place in the food chain.
- Learn to deduce answers from evidence animals leave behind.
*See glossary for definations
Education animals (eastern screech owls)
PowerPoint presentation (optional)
Sterilized owl pellets
Dissecting tools or toothpicks
Owl digestive system chart
Small animal skeleton and skull diagrams
Owls are not usually picky eaters. They consume their prey whole, but they cannot digest fur, feathers or bones. Because of this, they regurgitate a pellet about 12 hours after eating. This pellet contains those non-digestible materials and is generally dark gray. Owl pellets often are found under trees or near buildings where owls live, and their contents show what owls eat.
- Prior to participants’ arrival, bring the eastern screech owls into the classroom.
- Ask participants what they know about raptors (and birds in general) and what characterizes a raptor, as opposed to another type of bird, mammal, fish, reptile or amphibian. Discuss all characteristics they may not have listed.
- Next, turn the participants’ attention toward owls. Mention some characteristics that differentiate owls from raptors such as that they are nocturnal, their eyes are fixed in their sockets (which forces them to turn their entire head to see from side to side, though only up to 270°) and that they have fringed feathers at the front of their wings for silent flight. Don’t forget the other characteristic: owl pellets.
- Discuss the eastern screech owl’s biology, similar species and how the coloration is camouflage. Talk about its size as compared to other raptors, its distribution, its senses for hunting (notice the ears) and the two color morphs of this species.
- Discuss in detail how the owl digestive system works. Use the owl digestive system chart, and talk about the owl pellet composition. Look over the small animal skeleton and skull diagrams briefly before beginning the dissection.
- Give each participant (or pair of participants, depending on numbers) an owl pellet, dissecting tools, gloves and paper towels. Guide them carefully through the dissection. After the pellet is dissected and all recognizable parts have been removed, use the small animal skeleton and skull diagrams to see what the owl must have eaten.
- Answer any questions.
FLWCRNC has an “owl pellet cookie” for this program. Make the cookies before class and distribute before they leave. Contact the nature center for a copy of the recipe
- What part of an owl’s diet cannot be digested?
- Name the raptor species found in Arkansas.
- List the physical characteristics of raptors.
- What characteristics make owls different from raptors?
- Gill, Frank B. (1995). Ornithology. 2nd Edition. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
- Wilson, Steven N. (1998). Arkansas Wildlife: A History. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press.
Asymmetry – not identical on both sides of a central line
Camouflage – colors, tones, patterns, shapes or behavior an organism uses to blend with its surroundings; also concealment that alters or obscures the appearance; also protective coloration, a common animal defense
Carnivore – any animal that consumes other animals that are living (predation) or dead (scavenging)
Facial Disc – concave collection of feathers on the face of some birds (especially owls) to collect sound waves and direct them to the ears
Morph – an individual of one particular form, such as the red morph and gray morph of the Eastern Screech Owl, in a species that has two or more forms
Nocturnal – active at night (as opposed to diurnal)
Owl pellet – a mass of undigested food an owl regurgitates consisting of bones, fur, etc.
Plumage – the layer of feathers that cover a bird and the pattern, color and arrangement of those feathers
Predator – an animal that hunts and kills other animals, usually for food
Prey – an animal that is killed and eaten by another animal
Raptor – bird of prey; also a type of bird often characterized by a hooked beak, sharp talons and keen eyesight
Talon – claw of a bird of prey