Saturday, March 03, 2007

Owl Pellets

If you don't know what you're looking for finding an owl pellet can be pretty difficult. If you've never seen one you've probably overlooked it thinking
it's was no more than a small chunk of dirt. Since owls cannot chew their food it is pretty much swallowed whole. In their gizzard a pellet is formed consisting of undigested bones, fur, teeth, bills, feathers, etc. which they regurgitate. To find one look for areas where owls have been roosting. Look at the lower branches of trees and their trunks for "white wash" or owl feces. This is usually a sure sign of an owl roosting site. Also keep your ears open for mobbing by crows, which will pester any owl (especially the great-horned) they find roosting during the day and give away their hiding place. Search the area around the base of the tree for pellets.

Dissecting a pellet can not only tell you what a particular owl had eaten, but can also provide information of the types of mammals, insects, etc. in the area. The one I found (pictured) consisted of the bones of some type of rodent. Present are the skull, jaw bones, leg bones, ribs, vertabrae, shoulder blades, and teeth. I allowed mine to soak in water for awhile which allowed for an easier dissection. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and wash your hands afterwards when handling pellets. Salmonella outbreaks have been attributed to handling unsterilized pellets. If you come across tiny eggs, pupae casings, cocoons or larvae what you probably have found is evidence of a wool-eating or "clothes" moth. These moths have been known to lay their eggs on owl pellets. The developing larva feed off of the fur present there. If you're interested in dissecting an owl pellet but don't have the patience to look for one, you can buy them:

Mountain Home Biological

They sterilize them in order to make them safer to handle, but I would suggest you still wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after handling.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bat Conservation International

If you have an interest in bats, Bat Conservation International, which is based in Austin, TX has a cool website with lots of good information on bats and an online catalog that has all sorts of bat-related items such as books, bat houses, videos, etc. They also offer a free enewsletter (Bat Conservation Times Newsletter) that will keep you up-to-date on projects, conservation alerts, events, etc. To see the current issue of their newsletter go here and to receive it via email sign up here. They also offer a membership that includes:
~10% Discount on their Products.
~Four issues a year of Bats magazine.
~Catalogues of new educational and gift products twice a year.
~Invitations to join exclusive international ecotours in tropical locations.
~Opportunities to participate in U.S. workshops and field projects with Merlin Tuttle and other bat biologists.
~plus special benefits and free gifts for membership contributions of $45 or more.
Check it out!

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Bluebird Housing

This weekend I did something that I should've done a long time ago. I built and put up two bluebird houses, placing one of them on our property and the other on a neighbor's. Bluebirds are in this area year-round and hopefully they'll soon find these boxes and nest in them this spring. Unlike purple martins which normally produce one clutch, bluebirds can produce as many as 3 clutches each season. For some strange reason, which I'm ecstatic about, is that I rarely see any house sparrows here. I have enough problems with these viscious non-native nest-site competitors at my purple martin colony at home and am happy not having to deal with them here. There are lots of house wrens here which could try and take control of the boxes, so I placed them as prescribed by "The Bluebird Monitor's Guide" away from thickets and brushy areas which wrens love. The piece of pvc you see attached to the pole serves as a predator guard against climbing predators that's not only slippery but also wobbles making it more difficult to climb. An invasion by climbing predators such as raccoons and snakes, and believe you me there's plenty of both of them around here, would lead to nest abandonment by the parent bluebirds. Can't be raising a family in a house that predators have access to. If any activity is observed everyone will definitely hear about it.

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