Pellet Madness!

Last night on the field trip, someone turned the woodcock faucet on...and then abruptly turned it off. It was so weird, we were enjoying a balmy spring evening, we heard some woodcocks peenting and we heard some chorus frogs and then it all stopped. Hasty Brook was along on the trip and had an insanely bright light. She let me hold it and then when one of the woodcocks flew, I turned on the light--the woodcock hovered. Everybody in the group gasped and got a good look. I turned it off and it kept flying up, I think it was a tad bright for the bird. The woodcocks for awhile longer--they were all around our group--a few up close and some further away--and then they all stopped. Even the chorus frogs stopped. I'm not sure what happened, did some predator go through? Did the wind pick up too much? It was very strange.

Before the woodcocks started singing, we looked around some clumps of cedars to search for owl sign--and boy did we find it! My buddy Amber was with me and when she would disappear under a cedar and shout, "Ooooooh boy!" we knew she found something good. There were all kinds of poop, pellets--and feathers. Above are some pellet pieces and blue jay feathers. It looked like a blue jay had exploded under one of the cedars--feathers were everywhere.

Here's an up close shot of a skull in the pellet. We can tell this is an owl pellet because there are bones and a full skull in it. Owls tend to swallow their prey whole and falcons and hawks tend to rip it up, leaving bones behind. Owls also do not have as strong of digestive acids as hawks and falcons so the bones do not get digested. I think this is a meadow vole, they sure were all over the place. One was crawling around our group when it got dark and we were watching the woodcocks.

One of the pellets revealed a whole tail and foot of a mouse! You usually do not find undigested skin, Amber and I found this very exciting, much to the amusement of the group.

Amber also found a piece of an intriguing skull. It was avian and not mammal--it was very light weight, but what could it have been? The bill was no longer attached to the skull, so that important clue was missing.

bird skull

Further inspection of the skull revealed a tiny red feather--a clue! There were also come dark feathers too. Could this have been a cardinal at one time? The group's guess was probably not because the skull was quite large. I was looking at the photos above and compared them to a pileated woodpecker skull on Skulls Unlimited and I think we have it narrowed down. I'm not convinced that this is a pileated, but it is some sort of woodpecker, perhaps a red-bellied. But, whatever owl has been hunting here, it sure has been successful!