One of the traditional methods of determining the dietary preferences of owls relies upon the identification of bony remains of prey contained in regurgitated pellets. Discovery of a pellet containing a large, complete primary feather from an adult, male Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) prompted us to examine in detail a small sample of pellets from a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). Our analyses of feather and hair remains in these pellets documented the presence of three species of birds and two species of mammals, whereas bones in the pellets represented only mammals. This finding indicates an important bias that challenges the reliability of owl pellet studies making use of only osteological remains.
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A curious pellet from a great horned owl (Bubo virginianus)