The little-known scoop on bird poop

A trail of bird poop on asphalt can clue you in to where a bird nest is located. (Photo by Sharon Stiteler)

Often when I’m cruising the bike trails, I get distracted by bird poop. Sometimes I’m alerted to something like a roosting screech owl or a nest of green herons. In summer, however, I’m confronted with a steady path of poop cutting across the asphalt trail.

We often associate birds with freedom: the ability to fly and travel to other countries without the hassle of the TSA. I’m not going to lie, there are times when I’m in my office dealing with some paperwork nonsense and I see a bird fly by and I’m a bit envious of their utter freedom. Then you look at what they eat or watch them weather a storm outdoors and think, “OK, maybe it’s not so great to be a bird.”

This is especially evident when it comes to the bird version of diaper duty. Whereas some bird species such as herons and hawks will just squirt it out on the edge of the nest, the young of many species of songbirds like robins, red-winged blackbirds, and grackles will defecate right after the adult feeds them. The food goes down the hatch and then the baby bird butt goes up in the air. When the fecal material comes out, it’s surrounded by a mucous-like sac that makes it easy for the adult bird to grab in its beak. When the chicks are first hatched, some adult birds will just eat the poop. But as the chicks get older and the fecal sacs grow larger, the adults will carry them away.

This makes changing a diaper sound so much more appealing.

Without moving the fecal sacks, their scent would attract the nose of potential predators for smaller birds, so getting the fecal material away from the nest is crucial. Many adult birds are inclined to drop the fecal sac in water, which carries the aromatic evidence from away from the nest. But sometimes when birds fly over a dark driveway or trail, it can look like a dark stream and the birds will drop it there, leaving a trail of evidence. When I see that, I usually can trace exactly where a nest is by following the trail of poop or waiting a few moments until the adult flies in with a mouth full of food. Backyard swimming pools also can be a repository for bird poop.

There’s not too much people can do about this, though with driveways, a good hard rain will wash it away. As for pools, keep your covers on when you’re not using them.

Categories: Sharon Stiteler

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