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Northern Pygmy-owl pellet | by annkelliott
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Northern Pygmy-owl pellet

This very uninspiring shot shows a pellet that the tiny Northern Pygmy-owl brought up when it was perched in the bushes close to where we were all standing. I couldn't see the owl's face at that very moment, but did see the pellet falling down to the ground. Someone placed a 10 cent coin by it for size.


Saturday, 24 January 2015, was a great day for seeing the tiny, popcan-sized Northern Pygmy-owl in Fish Creek Park. For once, I was up really early so that I could go on a birding walk, which was being held at the same location. Other than the usual Black-capped Chickadee. Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers, the two main species that we saw were the Pileated Woodpecker (a male and a female together) and a very distant Cooper's Hawk. When we were at the furthest spot, we got news that the Northern Pygmy-owl had appeared. Needless to say, we joined the photographers who were all lined up with their enormous camera lenses pointed upwards.


About three (!) hours after getting back to where the owl was and seeing it on several different branches that were not particularly easy to photograph, it suddenly flew down to the mass and tangle of bushes right where all the photographers were now standing. A few people knelt or lay down in the cold, melting snow so that they could get a better view through the thin branches. There was no way I could do that, so my view was not as good. However, as far as actually seeing the owl at such close quarters was concerned, it was a great chance. All my photos, except this one and maybe two or three others, were no good at all and need to be deleted : ( It was amazing to see this tiny bird of prey up close, and it was really good to see how at ease it seemed. Can't remember if it had just caught a Meadow Vole before I took these photos or whether it caught one and then flew up into a thin, forked branch where it posed beautifully along with its catch. Haven't looked properly at the photos I took of this last pose, but hopefully one of them will be OK.


After about four hours of standing around, it was time to go home, especially as I had originally arrived at the park for the 3-hour bird walk seven hours earlier! Some people do this all the time and I don't know how they are able to do so. It requires so much patience, and I'd never be able to do it if it weren't for friends to chat with while waiting and waiting. Usually, my visits are much shorter.


"An owl pellet is a clod of fur or feathers and bone—the indigestible remains of the animals an owl has eaten. Because it swallows small prey whole and is able to digest only the fleshy parts, the owl regurgitates the remaining solid material as a compact pellet or casting. Where owls feed on insects, each regurgitated pellet contains the indigestible parts of the exoskeletons of numerous individual insects.


Although birds of many species regurgitate pellets, pellets from large owl species are especially suited for study because they are big enough to be examined without a microscope, and they contain the entire skeletons of small animals the owl has eaten. (Pellets of other raptors, such as eagles and hawks, are less useful since these birds tear much of the flesh from their victims, and do not swallow bones.) Because owl pellets accumulate in predictable locations, they are readily available for collection and examination. Pellets last a long time in dry climates and in the protection of barns or other buildings. If they are soaked in warm water, carefully dissected, and examined under magnification, the identity of prey they contain can often be determined from the bones, teeth, and other remains.


The remains hidden inside a pellet usually represent the entire skeleton of every animal the owl has eaten during a night of foraging. There are almost always remains of two or more animals in each pellet.”

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Taken on January 24, 2015