Bird pellets: how to identify
Identify different bird pellets to learn which birds are in the area.
What are pellets?
Pellets are often confused with mammal droppings, or scats, but are in fact regurgitated undigested food left by birds. They are usually found where birds have been feeding, roosting or nesting, and though wet and soft when fresh, soon dry out and harden.
All birds produce pellets, depending on what they have been eating, though some are more obvious than others. The ones found most frequently are those from raptors, which feed on mammals and birds – the fur, bones and feathers remain undigested.
In other bird species, fish bones and scales, seeds, plant matter, shells and insect remains may all be packaged up into a single pellet. Some large seabirds, such as gulls and skuas, swallow petrels, auks and rodents whole – subsequent pellets contain almost intact bones and wings.
How to identify different bird pellets
Large; fur and feathers but few bones as food is picked apart; under trees and telegraph poles and in fields.
Small; fur, small mammal bones and (on heaths) reptile scales and bones. Below nestboxes and holes in trees.
Large, thick, round; small body feathers, sometimes bones. Below favoured perches on buildings.
Small – round at one end, pointed at the other; lots of small feathers. Below favourite plucking perches.
Tawny owl pellet
Medium-sized; fur and bones of small mammals; birds’ skulls and bones. Below roost and nest sites in trees.
Great black backed gull pellet
Large, loose, fibrous; plant, insect, fish and mammal remains. Eats small seabirds and mammals whole
Herring gull pellet
Coarse, fibrous, loose, yellow-brown; grass, insect parts, grain, bones, skulls, fish bones, scales. Near nests.
Elongated and pointed; mix of seeds, bits of grass, insect wingcases, bones and fur. Lawns and short grassland.
Fibrous; vegetable matter, seeds, insect remains. Below rookeries and in fields where the birds feed.
Tightly packed, small, short, oval-shaped; full of insect body parts and fruit pips. Lawns and feeding sites.
Raisin-sized; insects, woodlice, seeds, centipede parts. Close to nests or below favourite singing perches.
Small, moist, loose; crustaceans, seeds, grit, worms, shell fragments. Breakwaters, seawalls, mudflats.
Illustrations: Mike Langman
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