Ron Knaus: An owl what?
My colleagues derided me when I told them I’d signed up for a graduate level course called “Field Trip Leadership.”
It turned out to be a most memorable course. We adult students were assigned to take elementary school classes on nature field trips. The trips had to be arranged (bus, permission slips, etc.), scouted, and an individual nature guide of the location was printed and provided to each student.
I chose to go to Point Lobos State Park on the coast near Monterey for a low tide- pool experience. Naturally, the intertidal life was the highlight for all, many experiencing it for the first time.
We broke for lunch, gathering beneath the eucalyptus and pine trees not far from the ocean. I had scouted the area before and knew where to have the children sit to eat.
I waited. And I waited. Finally a girl cautiously picked up a little furry ball from the ground and noted yellowish incisor teeth and a tiny skull packed inside. Instead of going “ugh,” she broke it open and found a tiny femur. Then vertebrae, then digits and a humerus. Other children did the same. I got quite a thrill as I watched the expressions on their faces as others broke open other fur balls.
Curiosity overcame disgust.
Many birds have two stomachs, a fore stomach or a crop and a regular stomach. In the owl the crop is muscular and possesses many glands that secrete acids and digestive enzymes onto the owl’s prey.
It would be inefficient for the owl (and other raptors) to process the whole animal through the entire digestive system, so the owl pre-digests the mouse or bird, squeezes it, sends the liquefied meat to the second stomach and regurgitates the indigestible fur and bones in a compact pellet. Voila, an owl pellet!
I dare say these children have not forgotten their tide-pool experiences and certainly not the owl pellets, some of which ended up in their pockets!
Ron Knaus, Ph.D. lives in Nevada City
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