Owl Pellet Finds

vole skull sketch

I received Cathe’s book for the collaboration yesterday and my brain has been trying to figure out what I’ll be contributing to her mix. Her book theme is “Collections”, something we can all relate to. As an artist I’m drawn to picking up bits and pieces that inspire my tactile and visual senses. I bring home shells and rocks from the beach, pick up interesting branches along trails, plant seedpods, and bones. The bone collections started when I was a child. My first bone collected was a cow vertebrae during a camping/fishing trip in the Steens Mountains (south eastern Oregon) from when I was about 5 years old. Since then, I’ve dissected owl pellets, collected deer legs bones hunters left behind (eastern Oregon), received antlers from co-workers, and a variety of things over the years.

I bet you can start to guess what Cathe’s page will contain after the above discussion! Bones have to be a part of my collection page. I’ve decided to play a bit today and try my hand at a skull. First I need to retrieve a new skull! Below are owl pellets (no, not a box of ugly truffles or poo). Owls hunt and consume rodents whole (if it fits, they gulp it right down!). In their stomach, the body sorts out the undigestible parts (fur and bones) packs them together and they regurgitate them as a pellet.

box of chocolate

These pellets have been sitting out in the garage and are from the barn owls that live at my friend Carol Chapel’s place. I’ve been meaning to see what treasures they hold. Bugs (maggots) have started to decompose the pellets revealing a little skull. What will I find once the fur is removed?

skull in pellet

To break apart the pellet, I utilize a container of water to soak the lump. This will gently free the fur from the bones.

soaking pellet

Fortunately, it really doesn’t stink.  After soaking for an hour I swirled things around and drain. Looks like a good haul!

skulls sived

After considerable picking and extra washing I came out with this lot-

BW bones

Three vole/mouse skulls, lots of leg bones, hips, scapula, vertebrae, ribs and assorted bits. Not a bad grouping of parts. After lunch I pulled out the A5 sketchbook from Maui and set to work on the skull drawing. Very challenging and I’ll have to continue sketching practice with the new bones.

Materials used: one owl pellet, A5 sketchbook with watercolor paper, graphite, watercolors.

Published by paperstew

I'm an artist in Albany Oregon focusing on paper and natural objects for inspiration.

11 thoughts on “Owl Pellet Finds

  1. OMG Gale I love this idea so much. This is so up my alley. I love bones and every other found item. I also love how you have pulled the bones from the pellets. Completely facinating! Keep going!

    1. I’m not certain how I’ll be arranging them, but probably in some sort of orderly fashion. Right now they are all jumbled together in a waxed paper envelope. They are also tacked to the wall so the dog doesn’t get any wrong ideas…

    1. Yes, I could probably bore people to tears with natural history stuff, so I only slip things in here and there. Glad you learned a little something!

  2. Bones! Yes, me too! These are so great Gale. I am very glad there are other strange people in the world who love these things as I do – as you say, I think we are all four quite similar! As soon as I saw the beginning of this I thought of my skull collection. Its the shapes more than anything that I love. Cathe has given us such a beautiful start with this one, and I can see you will be taking it to the next level.

    1. I think we will all have a blast with this book. So many things to choose from and so little space!
      😀

  3. Your sketch is lovely Gale, the muted colours are beautiful. these little skulls are so delicate and fragile. I love the fact that such little treasures come from the most unlikely of places, and that there are people in the world who can unearth beauty from the most ugly things. Hmm would you believe that I am not a collector anymore. I used to have piles of treasures but I have moved too many times and got rid of them all. But I may have something, I will need to go have a look in some old boxes. Karen

    1. I think moving is a great way to help keep collections in check. It’s been 20 years since moving into our home and it’s time we find something new. When I do pack, I’ll certainly be doing some major decluttering. So glad you enjoyed the little sketch. 🙂

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