Dissecting the Food Web: An Owl Pellet Investigation

Dissecting a Food Web: An Owl Pellet Investigation

Dissecting an owl pellet is a great way to learn about the different ecological roles organisms play in their environment. Our new kit, Dissecting the Food Web: An Owl Pellet Investigation, challenges students to think critically about these ecological roles and to make evidence-based predictions of their own. Through hands-on activities, project-based inquiry, and informative science articles, students build scientific and environmental literacy while having fun! Go through each lesson and extension activity with the webinar under the Quick Facts section.

With this kit students will…

  •  Discover what birds of prey eat
  • Reconstruct a skeleton
  • Analyze data and solve real-life mathematical problems
  • Model the interconnectedness of species
  • Learn how energy flows through an ecosystem
  • Be challenged with reflection and extension activities in each lesson 

Materials: Your kit includes…

  • Pellets and tools for 15 individuals or teams
  • Extra pellet for demonstration
  • Teacher’s Guide with three lessons and accompanying student handouts
  • Keys, charts, and diagrams for all activities
  • Background articles, cards, and posters
  • Access to web resources (videos, audio, additional links, and extensions)

Teacher’s Guide: Lesson Plans

The first lesson of Dissecting the Food Web: An Owl Pellet Investigation, The Food Web,” walks students through the basics of ecology concepts such as trophic levels, energy flows, and what happens if there is a disruption in a food web.

Next, in “Digging into Owl Pellets” students dissect a real owl pellet and practice observing, sorting, and recording data using diagrams and a dichotomous key.

In the last lesson, “Predicting Prey,” students apply ecological knowledge about different owl species to predict pellet contents and characteristics.


Owl Pellet 3 owls

The target owl species examined in Lesson Three are (from left to right) the Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Eastern Screech Owl.

Kit Quick Facts:

  • This kit was designed for students in 3rd-7th grade, although it is adaptable for high school classrooms with these web extensions.  
  • The curriculum also fulfills several Next Generation Science Standards (Grade 3-8) and Common Core State Standards (Grade 3-7).
  • Birdsleuth offers free Webinars for educators all year long, and you can view an archived Webinar on Owl Pellet Investigation below. The Owl Pellet webinars for this year’s series will take place on 8/15/17 and 8/17/17. You can read more about them and register for the free webinars here.

Additional Purchasing Options

Curriculum only: Already have owl pellets and the tools needed for dissecting them? You can now purchase our Dissecting the Food Web: An Owl Pellet Investigation curriculum separately.

Replenishment kits: Dissecting owl pellets with more than one class? Need to stock up for a new school year? Our replenishment kit includes pellets and tools for 15 teams or individuals.

Purchase these resources in our online store or mail/fax/email your purchase order to …

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
BirdSleuth K-12
159 Sapsucker Woods Rd
Ithaca, NY  14850

Fax: 607-254-2111

Email: birdsleuth@cornell.edu




  1.  by  Denise

    I really wish your owl pellet investigation kits were available for individual homeschool students. Hope you’ll consider that possibility in the future. Thanks!

    •  by  BirdSleuth

      Hi Denise, I recommend you purchasing the curriculum by itself (~$50) and order your own owl pellets online. That way you can still go through the entire kit, but for an individual family. We also recommend that if you’re with a homeschool group, share the costs of the full kit with the entire group. Hope this helps!

    •  by  Colleen Richards

      I recently did as they suggested below. Home Science Tools is a good resource for the individual pellets.

  2.  by  karen lehnert

    We have two horned owls living at our church located in the middle of a farming community.
    There are probably only about 6 trees in the church yard. It is interesting and fun to look for the owls each Sunday. can’t see any signs of a nest anywhere.

  3.  by  Leesa

    Are these “wild” or “raised” owl pellets? From the science company we order from, just seem to have the vole skeletons with nothing else because that’s what they are fed.

    •  by  BirdSleuth

      These are pellets collected from the wild. We have found shrews, voles, birds, and rats in our pellets!

  4.  by  Randy frederickson

    I much prefer smaller rodents and shrews to birds and rats in pellets. You cannot reconstruct a bird or rat skeleton from a single pellet…just too many bones missing.

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