Look out below!

Did you know eagles can shoot their poop?

If you’re watching the eagle nest camera closely, by now you must realize that if one of the eaglets has to go ... watch out!

One recent visitor to the National Eagle Center must have seen it herself and she was prepared. When she came into the classroom and heard they were bringing in an eagle, she was reluctant to sit tin the front row.  She’d seen that eaglet in the nest cock its tail and shoot it’s poop! That poop must have been projected like twelve feet! 

Poop isn’t really the best word to use. First of all, what you see get shot out is actually poop and pee! In eagles, as in most birds, urine and feces are excreted together. The white stuff is the urine. Birds excrete far less urine than do mammals, so what is released is concentrated uric acid. When it dries it forms a chalky white substance. The dark parts are the fecal material. Birds have one opening called the cloaca, sometimes called the vent. Together what is excreted as waste is called a mute.

You might see some of the chalky white mutes on the tree or on the ground below an eagles’ nest. This is called ‘whitewash’ and happens because eagles routinely shoot their poop out over the edge of the nest. They like to keep the nest nice and clean!

Other birds have different strategies for keeping a clean nest. After an American Robin feeds their young, they will put their beak near the baby’s vent. The nestling will then excrete it’s waste into a fecal sac which the parent bird holds in their beak and removes from the nest. Eeew... gross! Maybe gross, but it does keep the nest sanitary for the nestlings.

So where do the parent’s go with the fecal sacs? Well, they drop them. Where do they drop them?

On your car, of course! Yes, sometimes on your car. But why?

The main reason that the bird wants to remove the fecal sac from the nest is so that it does not build up and alert predators to the presence of the vulnerable young birds.  Ideally the parent bird wants to drop the fecal sac into water because it will literally be flushed away from the nest area. Nearby streams are ideal. From above, the shiny hood of your new car looks a lot like water. Looks like a great place to drop that load!

So those eaglets aren’t just showing off. They shoot their poop to help mom and dad keep a nice clean nest. (Eagles don’t produce a fecal sac.) Although most of the need to shoot their mutes is while they are in the nest, adult eagles do retain the ability. So on your next visit to the National Eagle Center, you might want to bring a raincoat!

Just kidding … we try not to let them shoot it at the audience!