An owl pellet is a dense mass of indigestible food that an owl coughs up after digesting a meal. Owls are predators and eat small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Owl pellets may contain bones, fur, and feathers. They offer a wonderful look at what owls in general eat as well as an intimate look at what a particular owl has eaten.
Obtain sterilized owl pellets for your class. Allow enough pellets so that children are in groups of 2-3 per pellet. If you collect pellets yourself instead of ordering pre-sterilized pellets the pellets will need to be sterilized. Sterilize by wrapping pellets in foil and heating them in a 325° oven for 40 minutes.
Start by asking children if they have ever seen a bird eat? How did it eat? What did it eat? What kinds of foods do birds eat? Show them one of the owl pellets and ask them what they think it might be? Tell them it is something made by a bird. Tell them they get to be scientists and explore what the object is.
Give each group/pair of children a pellet as well as a paper plate, dissecting tools, magnifying glass, and small containers. Explain that they can touch, pull apart, and separate the object. Explain that the containers are for them to sort out what they find. As they are examining their pellets ask them questions about what they find. Allow them to share their ideas and observations.
- What do they notice about the object?
- What is inside of it?
- What does it feel like?
Continue to ask questions and make observations until they come to the conclusion that it is the leftover bones, fur, and feathers from a meal of a bird.
Show them pictures of owls. Has anyone ever seen an owl? What did it look like? What do owls eat? Talk about predators. Ask why they think the owl coughed up the bones, fur, and/or feathers?
Build an Owl Nest Box
Most owl pellets available for purchase are from barn owls. While barn owls may be expanding their nesting territory in Iowa, many locations do not have suitable barn owl habitat. Be sure to explore other owls that may be in your area!
Learn about owls from All About Birds:
Talk to or invite a natural resource professional to your classroom. Have this professional help determine what owls live in your area that nest in a cavity or nest box. Find a resource professional (likely a naturalist) from your local Iowa county conservation board (CCB) or search this Word Document, Guide to Interpretive Services, compiled by the Iowa Association of Naturalists that includes camps, private nature centers, museums, and more!
Build an owl nest box (or several) together as a class. Check with a local natural resource professional or local landowners to find a place to hang them. Plan a field day to help hang the nest boxes (or at least observe). Plan to revisit the site at a later date to check if it is being used. Perhaps partner with CCB or landowner to have someone check it regularly and give photos/updates to the class.
Nest box plans
- Screech owl plan from Wildlife Center of Virginia (opens as PDF)
- Screech owl plan from NestWatch
- Barn owl plan from NestWatch
- Barn owl plan from Natural Resources Conservation Service (opens as PDF)
- Barn owl plan from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (opens as PDF)
- Barred owl plan from NestWatch
- Barred owl plan from Wildlife Center of Virginia (opens as PDF)
Snacks and Crafts
Provide children with various craft supplies and various natural objects to make their own owls (do this craft outside if possible and allow children to gather their own natural objects). Some ideas are toilet paper or paper towel rolls (cut in thirds), press the tops down together to form the head and ears of an owl. Allow children to decorate as they want. Leaves, bark, fabric or paper scraps can be wings. Googly eyes, small stones, seeds can be the eyes. Another idea is to use paper plates to make owls. Allow children to use their imaginations and see what wonderful owls they come up with! Display the owls in the classroom.
For snack time make owl toast. Cut the crust off of toast. Cut into a circle, cut another small half circle off of the top to form the ears of the owl. Use two banana slices with chocolate chips for eyes. Use a small triangle of a graham cracker for the nose. Enjoy!
For this and other activities, crafts and snack ideas use the Growing Up WILD activity ‘Owl Pellets.’
- Copy Me pages that open as PDF
- Home Connections card that opens as PDF
- Show Me Wildlife – videos of a barn owl, a silent snowy owl from Nat Geo Wild, and snowy owl facts from Animal Fact Files.