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Authors

Quoc Nguyen

Abstract

Most birds, especially raptors such as owls (Strigiformes), egest pellets, which are regurgitated masses of the owl’s prey. The contents of the pellets may contain hair, teeth, and bones which are usually indigestible since an owl’s stomach lacks the necessary ability to break down the ingested material. Furthermore, the formed pellets cannot pass through the digestive tract and are regurgitated since it would either be too dangerous to pass through the digestive system or would block additional ingestion of new food, hence the reason to egest the pellets. Research on the pathogenic bacteria in owl pellets are scant but understanding the number and types of bacteria may be helpful in determining a safe way to handle pellets, since there have been multiple cases of recorded Salmonella breakouts in elementary schools. If pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella could be transmitted through touching a pellet, then it could also affect organisms within the owl’s environment. We tested pellets from different species of owls by isolating bacteria on various selective-differential media to identify presumptive pathogens. We believe that there are a variety of pathogenic bacteria in owl pellets and identifying the types of bacteria may help elucidate the kinds of diseases the pellets may hold. From the results we can conclude that there appears to be some bacteria that could possibly be pathogenic. For example, the data for yellow MSA colonies, which is presumptive for Staphylococcus aureus, have more bacteria in the larger pellets. Another factor is that the diet and the environment of the owl may also influence the types of bacteria found. Our results could be used to advise handlers on safe practices when working with owl pellets and suggest treatment measures if handlers are exposed.

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