Owl Pellet

by Carl Strang


Recently I picked up a fresh owl pellet at Mayslake. I say, “owl,” though I suppose it could have come from a red-tailed hawk. The size, shape and location of this spit-out ball of fur and bones were much more consistent with the resident great horned owls, and I am confident that was the predator. I have written before about these owls as predators of cottontails, but this pellet allowed me to add three more species to the prey list.




Upper left is the skull and both halves of the lower jaw from a short-tailed shrew. This small mammal has toxins in its body, but clearly they didn’t deter the owl. Upper right are two skulls from white-tailed mice. I did use the magnifying glass to be sure, but a deer mouse at Mayslake would be something of a surprise. The remaining four skulls came from meadow voles. In this case I double checked against the unlikely possibility of prairie vole.




All seven small mammals would have been consumed within a reasonably short period of time. Each was just a single swallow for a bird this size, but together they provided a sufficient meal for an evening’s hunt. The pellet was in the middle of a brushy woodland, but that was not where all the hunting was done. Though white-footed mice and short-tailed shrews often occur in woodlands, the several meadow voles testify to a more open, meadow or prairie habitat. White-footed mice and short-tailed shrews also frequent such places. The pellet was in the center of the preserve, and I feel safe in my belief that these small mammals all were caught within Mayslake’s boundaries.


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