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.

 

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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.

 

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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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