As I entered Mahan Manor this morning, I found an enormous pellet on the bench. This 2 inch long pellet was found under a tree in the front yard. Given its size, I thought it belonged to a Great Horned Owl or Red Tailed Hawk, but since this is the territory of our resident Red-shouldered Hawk couple, who are preparing a nest, it is probably from one of them. Usually, we call these “owl pellets,” but all raptors, and other kinds of birds as well, create them.
When a raptor catches and eats its prey, some kind of small mammal for example, it consumes the entire animal, including the meat, bones and fur. It gets all the nutrition and then coughs up the indigestible remains in a ball of fur the next day. This is how they get calcium needed for their own bones, egg shells, and healthy chicks.
When scientists study raptors in the wild, they look for these pellets to see what they birds have been eating in that area. If the usual food source (say lemmings in the Arctic for Snowy Owls) has become unavailable, the scientists can find what they are eating instead by examining the bones in their pellets. Imagine having to learn about the skeletons of all those small rodents! In these pictures, you can see the hip bone, and the ball end of the thigh that would fit in it. The other photos shows some of the spinal bones and small ribs.
Adell and her mate are building their nest near Mahan Manor, and we are very excited about watching the progress of their chicks this summer. We will keep our friends advised about any developments. We may need to post signs around the house when the eggs hatch – “Quiet! Nursery Zone!”