Written By Andrew Krutz.

Posted on September 1st, 2020.

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Under some spruce trees just outside our house there have accumulated grayish-fuzzy clumps about the size of golf balls. Upon quick examination they appear to be reconfigured mice. That is because they are!

Under some spruce trees just outside our house there have accumulated grayish-fuzzy clumps about the size of golf balls. Upon quick examination they appear to be reconfigured mice. That is because they are!

After swallowing their food, most adult owls regurgitate what they cannot digest. This consists of plant matter, bills, teeth, claws, fur, and bones. About a day after the meal, this material is expelled in a tightly compacted clump known as a “pellet.” This is what makes dissecting the pellets so much fun. Depending upon the size of the owl and the meal it comes from, pellets can range in size from a few centimeters to four inches, courtesy of the Great Horned Owl. Because this pellet blocks their digestive tract they must get rid of it before they can eat again. We hear plenty of owl calls, but I am not going to hazard a guess as to which species these pellets are coming from.

For whatever reason, a particular owl seems to choose this small line of medium-sized Norway and white spruce to clear its throat of these undesirables. These pellets were deposited in winter. And these spruce are the only conifers in the immediate area. Perhaps owls like protection and concealment while they are regurgitating and these spruce afforded the only such protection in the area during the winter. We will be sure to check the area again next winter to see if more pellets start to accumulate beneath the spruce trees.

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Loose pellet amongst the spruce needles and cones

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Collection of pellets

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Vole skull and bones following a quick field dissection

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This image of an owl in flight was captured on a trail camera a few hundred feet uphill from the pellets.


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