Students in Joanne Bessler's fifth-grade class at Julia Randall Elementary School learned about owls from the inside out last week.
The students began by dissecting owl pellets and reconstructing the rodent bones they found inside.
Although some of the students were reluctant at first, Bessler said, they learned how to figure out what the owls like to eat.
Brian Merritt, a student in Bessler's class, said he had found the remains of a mouse in the pellet he studied.
"There were a few jaws, hair, extra leg bones and bugs," he said. "Most of it was packed with fur."
Later in the week, Tonto Forest Wildlife Biologist Cheryl Carruthers brought a stuffed barn owl and a stuffed great horned owl to Bessler's classroom to help students understand how owls use their natural abilities to survive in the wild.
Barn owls, which probably produced the pellets the students have been studying, are city slickers of sorts, Carruthers said.
"This guy's a little more of an urban animal," she said. "They help keep down rats and mice and don't threaten dogs or cats or farm animals."
Owls have large eyes to help them see at night, she said, and their heads can turn almost completely around, which helps them spot prey and predators.
"And the owl's feathers have a fur on them," she said. "That helps break up the wind going over their wings. Plus, the tips of the feathers are frayed; that also helps filter the wind and helps them fly silently at night."
The students were brimming with questions about the animals, and Carruthers patiently answered them one by one.
How many eggs do they lay?
"One or two."
How long do they live?
"About 15 to 20 years."
Where do they go when it snows?
Most owls migrate to more temperate climes, she said.
How come they only live about 15 years?
"They tend to get a lot of injuries," Carruthers said. "Life is kind of rough on these guys."
The students had a lot of questions about the animals they've been studying, and some of them gave Carruthers pause.
"I hope when you guys are grown up and working that you know far more than I know," she said.