Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Little Owl Soup

This morning I are mostly been poking around in a bowl of little owl soup!

Last summer, the warden of the bird reserve found himself with three dead little owl chicks.  They were soaking wet and he inferred they'd died of hypothermia.  Knowing Jenny works in the Museum of Zoology, he wondered whether the museum would be interested in mounting the skeletons.  They were interested in having one, but did not have the resources to deflesh the carcase, so Jenny and I did that.

Doug had already left them hanging up somewhere for the flesh itself to rot, so we got three dessicated, largely defleshed bodies, which we put into individual zip-up bags of the sort you use when you put small, delicate items into the washing machine, before burying them in the compost heap.

In the winter, when we turned the heap, we removed the bags and tipped the contents into three old saucepans which were lying around the garden, and left them exposed to the elements in the hope the weather would clean them up a bit.  No such luck!  Although the flesh had gone, the feathers had not, and with a whole body's-worth of feathers, the bones were all glued together in a lump, and we'd have risked breaking many of them if we'd simply tried to pull the mess apart.

Instead, we tipped one into a shallow dish and left it soaking in water with a bit of detergent added, and this morning I spent a couple of happy hours picking through the resulting soup, extracting the bones.  We now have most of the bones of a little owl skeleton, laid out on a piece of paper, drying, and in a day or two, Jen can take it in to the museum.  I know it's incomplete, because I only have 6 talons, where I should have 8.  No idea what else is missing. 

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