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Owl pellet research – Bath Spa University

Having a hoot at Newton Park


Having a hoot at Newton Park

Tuesday, 12 March, 2024

With British Science Week (8-17 March) in full flow, we’re highlighting some of the amazing projects that are happening on-campus, with this particular story giving students plenty to sink their talons into. 

Bath Spa University Wildlife Conservation students have teamed up with The Bird of Prey Project to examine owl pellets in order to identify small mammal prey.  

Newton Park is home to a number of barn owls and this research is key in understanding their behaviours and dietary requirements. In the research, students examined skulls found in the owl pellets to identify the most common type of prey. 

A student holds a tiny rodent skull found in an owl pellet

The findings discovered the most common type of prey was a field vole, closely followed by a wood mouse, pygmy shrew and bank vole. 

Ralph Thompson, Senior Lecturer in Zoology, spoke of the importance of the research: 

Identifying the bones found in owl pellets tells us what they have been eating. This is not only useful for understanding the behaviour of the owls, but also the abundance and diversity of small mammals in the area. We can effectively use the owls to sample the mammals for us, giving us an indication of the overall habitat health. 

Far from winging it for this particular research project, heads will continue to turn in the coming weeks and months with many of the findings being used by the students in further identification tasks. 

The pellets were provided by The Bird of Prey Project, an organisation that the University continues to work closely with to provide students with real-world experiences of conservation work, and in return help the falconry answer some of the interesting research questions they might have. 

The Bird of Prey Project is based in nearby Newton St. Loe and aims to benefit both wild and captive birds of prey through conservation, education and rehabilitation. 

Our Newton Park campus is home to many different wildlife species, varying from owls and bats to swans and badgers. For Wildlife Conservation students, Newton Park is the perfect place to engage in practical study and learn about different ecosystems, animals and plants. 

Find out more about the School of Sciences at Bath Spa University.

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