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Hurly bird

June 15, 2004

Owls puke up a grayish pellet that contains undigested critter parts filtered through the bird's gizzard. Think hairball, with bones -- perfect for bored kids to dissect.

Biologist Pete Bloom gathers about 300 of the compact pellets for each California natural history class he teaches at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. They're usually found near fence posts, phone poles, oak trees. "Look under what you would think would make a good hunting perch," Bloom says.

Barn owls, which regurgitate roughly one large pellet a day, are the most prolific barfers. Their pellets often contain wood rat, Botta's pocket gopher and California vole bones.

One note of caution: "You may have to wade through a whole lot of coyote poop before you figure out what an owl pellet is," Bloom says.

If that fails, try whipping up a batch of tasty pellet look-alikes.


Owl pellet cookies

Servings: 36 to 45 cookies

Note: Adapted from Chocolate Barn Owl Pellets from "Owl Puke" by Jane Hammerslough.

6 cups crispy rice cereal

2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet or milk chocolate chips

1 cup sugar

1 cup corn syrup

1 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, which adds "authentic" texture)

2 white chocolate or cookies-and-cream candy bar, chopped into bonelike bits (about 2/3 cup)

Foil for wrapping pellets

1. Mix cereal and chocolate chips in a large bowl. Set aside.

2. Mix sugar and corn syrup in a small pan and heat until bubbling.

3. Remove sugar-syrup mixture from heat and stir in peanut butter.

4. Stir peanut butter mixture into cereal and chocolate chips and mix together well. (The chocolate chips will melt.) When cereal is completely coated, allow mixture to sit for 5 minutes to cool.

5. Pick up 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mixture. Sprinkle 4 to 5 white chocolate "bones" into the mixture in your hand.

6. Squeeze mixture in your fist until it looks just like an owl pellet. Smooth edges if necessary and place chocolate "pellet" on a plate.

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