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About Birds: Why do birds poop when they take off in flight?

Absolute Bird Control consults with on staff ornithologist, Dr. Rob Fergus, to answer common questions about birds and bird behavior:

Dr. Rob Fergus is an ornithologist who specializes in urban ecology and human/wildlife interactions.

Written by: Dr. Rob Fergus

So you are sitting on your deck, enjoying your peaceful backyard when a crow lands nearby.  You enjoy watching it until it hops up on the table to check out the meat you have sitting there waiting be grilled.  You get up to scare the bird away from the food, and just as it takes off it ejects a big white dropping all across your deck!

Why do birds do that!?!

First off, birds poop all the time.  Anyone who has spent any time watching birds has seen them poop.  Some birdwatchers even joke about keeping a list of all the different kinds of birds they have seen poop.  Some birds poop in flight.  They poop when they are just sitting still.  And sometimes they poop right before flying off.  So is there something more interesting going on when a bird poops right before flying away?

It seems to be true, that many birds—just like many people, mammals, and even fish—have what has been termed a “fright response” which involves dropping their load as a response to fear triggering a blast of adrenaline through their system.  So, sometimes birds do literally get the crap scared out of them.  Startled birds fly, and if need be, poop.

Other times, birds that appear to be totally calm drop their load right before flying off.  In this case, the behavior is probably just a normal part of preparing to take flight—perhaps lightening the load before taking off.

Some of the muscles involved in bird flight, especially those controlling the tail feathers ,  might also affect a bird’s digestive track, and some researchers have speculated that the constriction of flight muscles may also cause a bird to defecate while taking off in flight.

So there are any number of reasons why a bird may poop just before or while taking off. But sometimes it is just time to go, and the bird has to go!

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