Perhaps you’ve come out to your car after a quick errand to find a messy splat of pigeon poo on your window. Usually a quick stop at the local gas station or car wash will get that cleaned up. But what if a 2 foot tall, 3 pound great horned owl flew over your car, would you need to be worried about a bigger splat? Do owls poop? Let’s find out everything you’ve always wanted to know about owl poop!
What Kind of Owls are There?
Owls are birds of prey that come out at night to hunt prey and maybe keep you up with their hooting. They have large forward facing eyes and a curved beak. Many have tufts of hair on the top of their head making it look like long ears or horns. The smallest owl is the elf owl which is only about the size of a hamster. The largest owl is the great horned owl which can be 2 feet tall. A common owl you may be familiar with is the snowy owl, like Hedwig in Harry Potter. Several cartoons over the years have included a “wise old owl” figure like Owl in Winnie the Pooh, who was played by an Eurasian eagle-owl in the live-action version of the story in 2018. Barn owls are the most common owl in the world, living just about everywhere except the chilly poles, hot deserts and a few islands.
Do Owls Poop?
Yes, owls poop. They also regurgitate pellets. Food goes in one way and comes out two ways. Owls poop out of their back-ends and regurgitate pellets out of their mouths.
What does Owl Poop Look Like?
Owl poop looks similar to pigeon poop, it is a slimy white substance. It appears white due to the uric acid. If you think you might have an owl roosting in your shed, look for signs of white owl poo dried onto the wood around it and the surfaces below.
Does Owl Poop Smell?
Yes. Because owl poop contains the waste of digested meat it is going to have a foul smell. Pellets, on the other hand, do not smell.
What are Owl Pellets?
Owl pellets are compact chunks of undigested food from an owl’s stomach. Since owls swallow their food whole, they are not able to digest the bones, fur, feathers, beaks and teeth. These are sorted in the gizzard and formed into a ball of crud that is regurgitated out of the owls mouth.
How do Owls Digest their Food?
Let’s take a classic example of a barn owl that swoops down and pins a small mouse to the ground. The mouse wriggles around a bit, but the strong talons of the owl crush the mouse killing it instantly. The owl will then swallow the mouse whole. Owls do not chew their food because they do not have any teeth. The dead mouse slides down the throat (esophagus) of the owl into the first part of the stomach (proventriculus) where digestion begins. The proventiculus is where the food is mixed with enzymes, acids and mucus to help break down the mouse body. Then is released into the second part of the stomach (ventriculus or gizzard) this is where the muscles contract and expand to further break down the food and to separate it.
The enzymes from the first part of the stomach are strong but not potent enough to break down bones, beaks and teeth. Those are churned into a pellet and sent back up to the first part of the stomach. The rest moves down to the small intestine, large intestine, cloaca and vent. The pellets stay in the proventriculus until it is ready to be coughed out and the poop remains in the cloaca until the owl is ready to go.
How Often do Owls Poop?
It depends on the owl and their diet but most owls poop several times a day. Smaller owls are going to poop more often than large owls.
How Often do Owls Regurgitate a Pellet?
Owls regurgitate pellets around once a day. The pellets can be made from multiple animals and combined into one pellet. These can stay in the proventiculus for 10 – 20 hours before being spit out.
Owls are carnivores so they eat one of the largest variety of animals including small mammals, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and even other birds. Here is what is on the menu for several common owls:
- Barn owl: mice, fish, rodents, birds and small mammals
- Great horned owl: large prey like osprey, falcons, rabbits, squirrels and even skunks
- Tawny owl: voles, fish, lemmings
- Screech owls: insects, slugs, snails, fish, amphibians, small rodents
- Elf owl: insects, earthworms and beetles
Can Owls Poop Mid-air, While Flying?
Owls can poop while flying, but they prefer to poop right before taking off to make themselves lighter. Makes sense! Owls have a fast metabolism and can process food fast, so they will poop whenever (and wherever) they need to.
Do Baby Owls Wear Diapers?
No, of course not, baby owls do not wear diapers. If you see an owls nest you will see that they go right there in the nest. There will also likely be piles of pellets as the adult owls often regurgitate from their roosting spot.
Do Baby Owls Make Pellets?
Not right away. Baby owls get fed by their parents, the male hunts for the food and brings it to the nesting site and the female breaks it into small chunks to feed to the baby owls. When baby owls start eating their own food and swallowing it whole, then their bodies will start making pellets.
Snakes Swallow Prey Whole, do Snakes Make Pellets?
For snake digestion, they swallow their prey whole but it follows a different path than owls. It may take days or weeks for a snake to digest one meal. It can sit in their stomachs and intestines for long periods of time being continually digested with a mix of strong enzymes, much stronger than owl enzymes. After the whole meal is digested the snake will poop one time vs over a period of days. If there are large bones, fur or teeth that the snake can’t digest they will regurgitate it in the form of a pellet.
How Can you Identify Bird Poop?
Back to the bird poop on your car window, it is probably not going to be owl poop. Remember owls are nocturnal and prefer to release there poo before taking off to keep a lighter load while flying. You should avoid handling bird poop of any kind because it can spread disease and make you sick.
Trained conservationist can study the droppings of owl to find out about an owls lifestyle. One research study looked at the effects of stress of Spotted Owls by studying their poop. They found that the owls that lived closer to the major roads used by logging companies had cortisone levels twice that of owls that lived further away. Opening up room for more research for sure!
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