When an Eagle’s Gotta Go

Juvenile Bald Eagle

I was in awe of the eagle’s mighty…

poop.

I was never particularly enthralled by bird poop. I mean, ick. On the car. On the lawn chairs. And once, years ago, on my shoulder. Besides the occasional irritation at a windshield splat, I never gave bird droppings any serious thought.

That is, until yesterday. I happened to be filming when a young Bald Eagle lifted his tail.

What I saw sent me clicking for answers: Just how far can a Bald Eagle shoot poop? Some sources say eight feet horizontally; some say ten. Either way, that’s an impressive launch.

And why are bird splats always white and so sticky thick, they’re immune to washer fluid? I can’t say that an eagle has ever fouled my windshield. But the one in front of me was shooting a fire hose-worthy stream of white liquid. Was it the same stuff spewed by crows and cardinals, only on a grander scale?

Yes, I learned. It is. Birds aren’t built to carry a lot of weight, and water is heavy. So, instead of urine, their liquid waste is well, not so liquid. The white pasty stuff is concentrated uric acid. And—because you do want to know—birds are monotremes, meaning ‘…their intestinal, urinary, and reproductive systems all terminate in a single posterior orifice called the cloaca, derived from the Latin word for sewer.’ That’s from a great article, Oh, Poop Shoot! by The Raptor Resource Project. The article goes on to explain that ‘a bird’s urine and feces both exit from the same place, sometimes explosively.’ No kidding—take a look:

Do you suppose he was admiring his work when he looked down after finishing his business? And does that evil stare at the end of the clip suggest he knew I was watching?

If, like me, you’re now in touch with your inner seven-year-old—or have a kid nearby who loves potty humor—here’s a slow-motion replay of the business part of the video. And speaking of kids, I have a book recommendation for young readers in your life. It’s about poop, of course.

Heather L. Montgomery is known for her irresistible non-fiction kids’ books. Her writing is fun, sometimes irreverent, and always loaded with serious science. Heather’s newest book is Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other. It won’t be released until September 8, so I’ve pre-ordered but haven’t read it. But I spent several days with Heather at a workshop where she talked about the book and shared her approach to writing about science and nature for kids and teens.

On her website, you can watch Heather read the book’s first chapter. You’ll get a good preview of the book and her inimitable writing style.

Oh, and back to my backyard eagle’s poop shoot. This morning I inched down our steep bluff to search for eagle scat. I was expecting a wash of white, a liquid sploosh spread over a wide swath of ground. What I found were well-dispersed splotches. Here’s one.

I’d say the process was more impressive than the product.

What do you think?

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