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Pellet probing reveals local owl’s preferences

by Brian Lavers

In an attempt to discover the menu preferences of “our” so far lone Pierrepont barn owl, the Monitoring Group on Saturday 22nd June recovered a number of pellets (the regurgitated and, to an owl at least, indigestible remains of its prey) from below its favourite perch within one of the farm buildings. Apart from identifying what this particular barn owl ate it would also provide a fairly broad indication of the locally resident small mammal species.

Brian Senior dissects a pellet while Bill Young uses a microscope to identify the contents.

Brian Senior dissects a pellet while Bill Young uses a microscope to identify the contents.

A total of four pellets were eventually dismantled and their contents examined under Bill Young’s powerful microscope, the findings then being compared against a leaflet which illustrated in considerable detail the skeletal remains of small mammals likely to form part of a barn owl’s diet. From this we were able to identify with some confidence the remains of six bank voles, two common shrews and one wood mouse, averaging at two and a quarter prey items per pellet.

A collection of bones, fur and other material that formed the contents of one pellet. In each case the lower jaw proved to be the best means of identifying the particular prey item.

Part of the contents of one pellet. In each case the lower jaw proved to be the best means of identifying the particular prey item.