Last Friday I gave you this mystery sternum to identify:
I had a rough idea of the family, but I was less certain about the species. As it turns out I’m now less sure of the family than I was before, in light of some useful comments.
At first I thought this was the sternum of a member of the Strigidae or the ‘True Owls’ – something that Jake also thought with his suggestion of Tawny Owl Strix aluco, but henstridgesj and Daniel Jones raised the possibility of it being from a seabird and Daniel Calleri suggested it could also be from a member of the Halcyonidae or the ‘Tree Kingfisher’ family.
With the Christmas and New Year break I haven’t had a chance to get to our stores to check specimens, but there is a very useful website that deals with seabird osteology (helpfully called Seabird Osteology) which has some images of sterna. Several of the Procellariiformes (the order containing the Albatrosses, Petrels, Shearwaters, etc.) have a similarly short sternum with a double notched bottom margin, as do some of the Laridae or the Gull family.
I also checked an image of a Kookaburra from a previous mystery object, which doesn’t show the sternum well, but which does hint at a double notched bottom margin:
This has left me slightly less confident that last week’s mystery object is from an owl, but here are a couple of other owl sterna for comparison:
As you can see, the Barn Owl sternum above doesn’t quite have the double notch, although the size is about right. The Eurasian Eagle Owl sternum below (ignore the coracoids and other bits of the pectoral girdle) is a much closer fit, although substantially larger.
I’ll see if I can find a Tawny Owl sternum to check against, because the shape does seem pretty good for one of the Strigidae and the size is about the same as a Barn Owl, which is in a different family, but has a size range that overlaps with the Tawny Owl. Of course, it could also be from one of the other medium sized owls, like the Long-eared or Short-eared Owls… more to come!
UPDATE 14:30 on 3rd January 2014
Here’s a Tawny Owl sternum!
It’s pretty close, but the notches seem a bit deeper, so perhaps one of the Asioninae (Eared Owls) might be a better match for the mystery object?
How do you begin to identify a bone? Sorry, this is a random question, but if have been reading your posts for a while and I keep wondering. What is the thought process you use to identify bones?
Also, what are some good books to read to become better at identifying bones?
a lot of the time I find identification to be quite intuitive in the first stages, because I’ve been doing it for so long I guess.
I get a rough idea of what to check by looking at size, density, rough shape, etc. This will usually provide a sense of approximately the right type of animal to look at in more detail.
When looking in detail check for breaks and missing sections to get an idea of what might be different about your specimen – this changes how you might approach an identification.
The main thing to work out is what’s diagnostic of a species and what’s not. This is really where you need comparative material and good scientific keys or guides as there are lots of features on bones that look like they might be distinctive, but it turns out they’re not. The trouble is that it can be hard to find good resources in print.
I would definitely recommend Jake’s book, which is coming out in February (http://www.jakes-bones.com/2013/03/and-my-really-big-news-is.html). In theory it’s for kids, but I think it will actually provide a great primer for anyone wanting to understand bones and identification a bit better.
If you’ve already got some experience there is a new identification guide (American species) that should be helpful: http://www.tamupress.com/product/Identifying-and-Interpreting-Animal-Bones,7575.aspx and the website has a really handy list of bone atlases and tools: http://www.identifyingbones.com/page1/Tools.html
There is also a good guide for bird bones (Northern European), but it’s out of print: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Manual-Identification-Bones-Archaeological-Sites/dp/0951197207
I hope that helps a bit.
Oh it helps a lot, thank you so much! I genuinely appreciate it! Woohoo!
Too bad I missed this one last week, birds being my favorites. Maybe I can put my E 0.02 in afterwards.
I have hundreds of bird skeletons, but unfortunately the organization of my collection is a bit behind schedule, so I cannot check everything right away. Some suggestions I could look into and exclude: kookaburra, woodpecker and shaerwater all have sternums that are not similar to this one. Luckily, I have a mounted skeleton of a short-eared and a long-eared owl mounted together at the same stand (too bad I cannot add pictures to this message) so I could check those out. Take into account that your specimen is a bit worn at the edges, and the fact that the shape of the distal end of a sternum often shows some variation within a species, I can say that an eared owl is a pretty good match, and the long- eared looks closest to your specimen.
With best wishes for 2014, Wouter
Thanks Wouter, it’s never too late to comment and your input is always valued.
Happy New Year!
I got to this late also, but enjoyed the search. The closest thing I could find was the burrowing owl, Aethene cunicularia, but it was about .5 cm shorter and wasn’t an exact match, but closer than anything I had access too. I only have N. American species.
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