Clairbourn School: Skeletal Discoveries – Fourth Grade Owl Pellet Lab

Clairbourn’s fourth graders are studying carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores, as well as food chains and food webs.

The owl is a carnivore. In fact it eats only live prey. What’s especially interesting about the owl is that not all of what it eats is broken down. It swallows the entire mouse, vole, shrew, or bird that it consumes. After the owl digests what it can, it then ejects an elongated pellet of the remaining bird or animal parts from its mouth onto the forest floor. Scientists have collected these pellets for the purpose of examining them.

Students in Mrs. Ryan’s class thought the pellets would be very interesting to study and dissect. The class prepared by watching videos of owl pellets being dissected by others. Soon after, a delivery of dissection kits containing sterilized owl pellets arrived. The fourth-graders were VERY excited to don their gloves and goggles and begin the work of opening the pellets.

The thought of examining something from the inside of an owl was a bit off-putting at first, but all those thoughts disappeared when the anticipated kits were handed out. Within a few moments of working in the lab, students excitedly shared things like, “I’ve got a skull!”, “Mrs. Ryan, what’s this?”, “These bones are so small.”, “This must have been a bird.”, “The teeth are orange.”, and “Is this a tail?”.

Some students had to improvise with pellets that were too dry and hard to work with. After figuring out that they could soak them a bit in water, they were soon back in business using the tweezers, pick, and the hand lens to find more treasure. To see the animal bones more clearly, they spent time afterwards cleaning the fur and debris off the bones.

The next part of the lesson is to examine the bones and assemble them into a skeleton matching one of the rodents (or bird) on our charts. They will work to recreate one of the creatures and glue the skeleton to display board.

To see more photos from the activity, click here.

Clairbourn School, 8400 Huntington Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 286-3108 or visit



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