Introducing … Answers to Children’s Questions!
And now, we want to answer YOUR questions—or your children’s questions, or your next-door neighbor’s dog’s questions. We’re going to answer one each month in a series we’re calling Answers to Children’s Questions.
Here’s how it works: When science-type inquiries arise, send them to us. If we choose your question, we’ll make a post where we try to answer it. Plus, you (or whoever asked it) will get a super-soft Buzz Hoot Roar T-shirt. Then we can finally be the matching buddies we’ve always dreamed of being! Send those questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why is bird poop white?
(Asked by Llewellyn M., age 8, in Gloucester, MA)
First, it’s not poop, it’s pee. The poop is the other stuff in the splat. And it all comes out the same hole!
Amazing White Bird Pee begins with an element called nitrogen.
Lots of food has nitrogen in it. It’s a building block of life! But too much can kill us.
When we (we = us and all other animals) eat and drink, our bodies take the stuff we need from food and then we pee and poop out the stuff we don’t need.
The trouble with extra nitrogen is that it likes to stick to three little hydrogens, like this.
When nitrogen starts hanging out with its hydrogen buddies, they form a chemical called ammonia. Ammonia is deadly! We need to flush it out of our bodies! That takes water.
People and mammal kidneys take nitrogen-that-could-easily-be-deadly-ammonia and package it up as a chemical called urea, which we pee out. Urea takes lots of water, but that’s no problem. We drink plenty! We’re fine.
Creatures that don’t drink all the time, or those who work super hard to save up their water, like birds, reptiles, and most land-dwelling bugs, can’t afford to dump water into urea. Most of them package their nitrogen-that-could-turn-into-deadly-ammonia into something called “uric acid.”
Uric acid’s white.
That’s why bird poopee (poop+pee!) is white, and so is turtle poopee, lizard poopee, spider poopee, dragonfly poopee, you get the idea.
Fish, by the way, who live in water All Day, Every Day, just pee that ammonia straight out—no extra work required.
Don’t drink from the fish bowl. Not because it could kill you. Fish pee only tiny amounts of ammonia because they are small. Your body could easily turn that into urea. But because your fish don’t want to swim in your backwash. And because it’s gross.
Written by Roar. Illustrated by Isabel Yates.
Isabel Yates is a high school student from Raleigh, NC. When she’s not studying, she loves to illustrate and paint! You can see more of her work on Instagram @isabel.Grey.art.