Owl pellets may not be what you think they are. The photo below is not very good quality because it was taken in very low light. But it is an amazing photograph!
The owlet above is expelling an owl pellet. The previous post was about what owlets eat. This post is about how owls digest their prey.
Here is an edited excerpt from an article All About Owl Pellets from Carolina.com. The photos are mine.
“Most birds cannot chew their food and owls are no exception. Owls usually swallow their prey whole. However, owls differ from other species of birds because they do not have a crop. In owls, food passes directly from the mouth to the gizzard.
The types of tissue that can be dissolved by an owl’s digestive system include muscle, fat, skin, and internal organs. These tissues are broken down into a variety of nutritional substances by the owl’s gizzard and intestines. Some of these food particles like fur and bones cannot be digested.
Indigestible material left in the gizzard such as teeth, skulls, claws, and feathers are too dangerous to pass through the rest of the owl’s digestive tract. To safely excrete this material, the owl’s gizzard compacts it into a tight pellet that the owl regurgitates. The regurgitated pellets are known as owl pellets.”
“An owl pellet generally reaches its final form a few hours after the owl has eaten. Since the stored pellet partially blocks the entrance to the digestive system, it must be ejected before the owl can eat again. Young owls do not produce pellets until they have begun to eat their prey whole.”
“The actual process of regurgitating a pellet lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. The pellet is forced out by spasms of the owl’s esophagus. These spasms make the owl look like it is coughing painfully. However, it is not hurt by the process because the pellet remains soft and moist until it leaves the owl’s body.”
“The adult Great Horned Owl can produce pellets that are 3-4 inches long! These pellets are usually cylindrical and tightly compacted. The exterior of the pellet can vary greatly due to the vast array of prey that Great Horned Owls consume.”
There is also a quite entertaining (and educational) video on youtube, especially for kids. Or the kid in all of us!