Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Moosehorn National Wildlife Refugebiologist thrills local kids with owl vomit!
Northeast Region, July 25, 2014
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Children in the Calais Recreation Department summer camp start dissecting their owl pellets.
Children in the Calais Recreation Department summer camp start dissecting their owl pellets. - Photo Credit: Ray Brown, USFWS
These girls are really getting into their owl vomit.
These girls are really getting into their owl vomit. - Photo Credit: Ray Brown, USFWS

Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge biologist Ray Brown gave a presentation today to a large group of children about the owls of Maine. The Calais Recreation Department in Calais, Maine, has been focusing their Friday summer camp days on wildlife, and particularly some of the gross things that animals do. Previous Friday sessions focused on slimy snails and vomiting vultures. On that same theme, the camp director asked Brown to talk to the group about owl pellets. Brown wanted to really gross out the kids and get their hands on some real owl vomit, so he acquired sanitized owl pellets for each of the kids to dissect with their own hands.


Brown started with a PowerPoint presentation that included photos of the 11 species of owls that may occur in Maine. In addition, he brought in taxidermy mounts of the 3 most common owls at Moosehorn NWR (barred, great horned, and saw-whet owls) and a snowy owl. He played the common calls of all 11 species of owls on a game caller so the kids could hear the wide variety of calls that different species of owls make. He also discussed the special adaptations that owls have that allow them to be such successful hunters at night. The children were very excited and interested in owls and asked a tremendous number of questions and told of their personal experiences with seeing and hearing owls at Moosehorn and elsewhere.

Then Brown brought out what the kids had been waiting for--the owl vomit, better known as owl pellets, which consist of the compressed, indigestible remains of rodents and other prey that owls expel from their mouths after eating. Each child got his or her own pellet to dissect using the probes and forceps that Brown brought along. The children each were given a blank piece of paper to dissect the pellets on, and a diagram that identified most of the bones and skulls that the children were likely to find in their pellets.

Far from being squeamish or grossed out by the owl "vomit" they were handling, the children, boys and girls alike, practically tore into their pellets, searching for the remains of rodents and birds that the owls had previously eaten. Some of the kids were so excited that they could hardly contain themselves, and kept running up to Brown with bones and skulls that they had found so he could identify the parts for them. The children extricated the skulls and other bones of mice, rats, voles, moles, gophers, shrews, and small birds from the pellets.

The children got to bring home their owl pellet remains in Ziploc bags, and many kids were looking forward to grossing out their moms with the yellow-toothed rodent skulls they found. Many kids expressed how much fun they had and they wanted Brown to return to talk about more wildlife-related topics. One little curly haired 5-year old girl who had impatiently waited through the PowerPoint presentation for the owl "vomit" to be brought out, was so happy after the owl pellet demonstration that she told Brown, "I wuv you!"

I guess the way to some girls' hearts is through diamonds or pearls, but with others, owl vomit is what they're looking for. The kids at the Calais Rec Center today all know for sure that owls and owl pellets are cool. I'll bet that the demonstrations on snail slime and vulture vomit on previous Fridays didn't go over quite as well!

Contact Info: Ray Brown, 207-454-7161 x 105, ray_brown@fws.gov
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