Arkansas's Owls (FBCEC)
These “hunters of the night” are some of Arkansas’ more interesting birds. Participants will separate fact from fiction with an owl quiz, and an interpreter will discuss Arkansas’ owls. An owl pellet dissection will teach participants about diet and feeding habits of owls as well as the role of owls within a food web.
K - 12
Indoor or outdoor classroom
Fred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR
Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484
45 minutes - 1.5 hours
Suggested Number of Participants:
Up to 24
- Dispel common myths about owls.
- Learn about owl characteristics, adaptations, habitat and food web dynamics.
- Dissect an owl pellet.
- Record and analyze the dissection results.
- Recognize why birds of prey should be conserved.
*See glossary for definations
Identiflyer with owl calls
Owl exhibit items
Owl “Myth or Truth” quiz
Owl pellets/lab worksheets
Owl pellet bone charts, skeleton charts
White paper or paper towels
(Optional: hand lenses or magnifiers, poster board and glue, dissected owl pellet display)
Four owl species are common to the Ozarks: the barred owl, the great-horned owl, the screech owl and the barn owl. They are important birds of prey that hunt mainly at night. Owls typically catch small prey and swallow it whole. (There are some exceptions, of course.) After digesting the soft tissue, an owl will cough up a pellet of undigested fur, bones and teeth. Much can be learned about an owl’s eating habits by examining its pellets.
- Begin with a “Myth or Truth” owl quiz (addendum to lesson).
- Read the following script before the quiz: “I will read twelve statements about owls. Some are true and some are misconceptions taken from cartoons, fictional children’s books or superstition. As I read each statement, use thumbs up to indicate if you believe the statement is true and thumbs down if you believe it is a myth.“ As you conduct the quiz, discuss the correct response to each statement.
- Display a variety owl exhibit items (feathers, talons, etc.) and use the Identiflyer with owl calls to acquaint participants with some common species they might hear. Owls most common in Arkansas include the screech owl, great-horned owl, barred owl and barn owl. The long-eared and short-eared owls and the burrowing owl are also Arkansas residents but are not as easily seen by the casual observer. Rare visitors from the northern states are the saw-whet and snowy owls.
- Emphasize the importance of owl conservation. Pesticides for rodent control are not recommended because consuming the rodents will poison predators. Nonpoison methods of rodent control should be researched when facing a pest problem. Many owls are cavity nesters; therefore, it is important to leave dead, hollow trees standing when possible. It can also be beneficial to build or install an artificial owl box to provide habitat.
- Introduce the owl pellet lab by discussing owl feeding habits and show Riker mounts of an owl pellet dissection. After digesting the nutritious parts of the animals it swallows whole, an owl will cough up the excess (primarily fur and bone) as a compact pellet. Much can be learned about the owl’s role in the food web by surveying the regurgitated pellets.
- Before conducting the owl pellet lab, make sure each pair of participants (or small group) has an owl pellet, dissecting probes, an owl pellet bone chart, a skeleton chart and a sheet of white paper or paper towel. Discuss proper lab procedures such as washing hands before and after the activity and not eating or drinking during the activity.
- Participants should place the owl pellet on the white paper and, using fingers or probes, gently break off a small chunk of the pellet. Remember, the bones are small and easy to break. Participants will continue to probe the pellet to locate bones and set them aside.
- Next, compare the bones with the ones on the bone chart. Identify as many bones as possible and make a pile for each kind of bone.
- sing the bone chart and skeleton guide, participants should identify as many types of bones as possible. The skull and jaw bones should help identify the species and the number of individuals eaten. Have them record the data in a table you provide. As all the data is turned in, you may discuss the implications of the findings with the group.
- Inform participants that these owl pellets usually come from barn owls because it’s easier to identify nesting sites and collect the pellets. Also mention that these pellets could come from other regions of the country, and skeletons identified may be from animals not common to the Ozarks.
- Participants may glue bones to cardstock to create a small display board.
- If time allows, participants can be challenged to assemble as complete a skeleton as possible from the bones collected.
- For younger groups (K - 4), substitute an owl puppet craft for the pellet dissection. Materials and directions for the puppet are filed with FBCEC curriculum materials.
- Name four common owl species in the Ozarks.
- Describe what one can learn by dissecting an owl pellet.
- Explain why owl conservation is important.
Participant Information Sheets:
Owl Quiz: Myth or Truth?
Adaptation – a natural alteration in the structure or function of an organism which helps it to survive and multiply in its environment
Food web – a network of interrelated food chains in an ecosystem
Habitat – an arrangement of food, water, shelter or cover, and space suitable to animals’ needs
Owl pellet – a mass of undigested food an owl regurgitates consisting of bones, fur, etc
Pesticide – synthetic and sometimes biological substance used to kill or contain pests
Prey – an animal that is killed and eaten by another animal
Talon – claw of a bird of prey