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Picture of Owl Pellet Dissection
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One of the units we covered this year in my Environmental Science class was energy and matter in the environment. The purpose of this activity is for students to understand how energy can be transferred in the environment. As an extra credit opportunity I encouraged my students to build their skeletons with the intention of creating 3D models that were labeled and enclosed in a small display case (students will make from acrylic/plastic sheets from the hardware store). We haven't gotten that far yet, but hopefully someone will take me up on the opportunity.

The owl pellet dissection can be repeated once or twice more (depending on your class size) over the course of a month or so for the purpose of collecting a sufficient amount of data for students to create data tables, charts, graphs in order to extrapolate information from the data collected.

This activity is one part of a whole unit and is written using 5th grade standards but can be adapted to younger or higher grade levels. What I really like about this lesson is that not only is it adaptable for grade level, easily differentiated for skills/abilities, it's also very accessible. There doesn't have to be a ton of background reading for students to all gain the same knowledge.

Additionally, this lesson can address multiple informational text reading and writing standards for English. Specifically researching barn owls (the type of owl our pellets came from), their usual diet and whether or not their diet changes based on where they live, how much barn owls typically eat and how often they eat.


NGSS.5-LS2-1.A Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

NGSS.5-LS2-1.B Develop a model to describe phenomena.

MA.5-PS3-1 Use a model to describe that the food animals digest (a) contains energy that was once

energy from the Sun, and (b) provides energy and nutrients for life processes, including body repair, growth, motion, body warmth, and reproduction.

5.MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively

MA.5.MD.B Represent and interpret data.

MA.[3-5.CT.c].2 Data

Step 1: Trip

Picture of Trip
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I wanted to make this unit as meaningful and hands-on as possible and attempted to do so in several ways.

The first of which was to arrange an up-close experience with owls for my students. I did this by contacting several organizations that had owls and settled on a local Mass Audubon sanctuary. Massachusetts has I don't know how many wildlife sanctuaries across the state and 20 nature centers. Several of these centers have wild animals that due to injury or human interference are unable to be released back into the wild and spend their lives at the centers, often acting as ambassadors for their species.

One of our local centers, Drumlin Farm, has several birds or prey and has a couple owl ambassadors. We were able to see a screech owl extremely close up. They were also able to see and touch owl and hawk wings, talons, and feathers (from deceased birds). We also talked a lot about owl diet and why they produce pellets. The Nature Teacher at the farm had tons of owl pellets she and her dog collected in the wild for us to look at.

Drumlin Farm is also a working farm in addition to a nature center/wildlife rehab.

The purpose of this trip was not only to get students exciting about our upcoming owl activities, but to activate their prior knowledge and to support them building new connections.

I did Owl Pellet Dissection with my fourth-grade class. It's such a fun cross-curricular lab! Students talked about it for months after. :D