Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Blast from the Past: Eagle Poop!

Bald Eagle

I’m still archiving transcripts from old "For the Birds" programs (I'm up to 2,900 programs with transcripts available through my webpage!), and last week I came upon one from April 14, 1997, that seemed worthy of a new look. I wrote:  

Last week I had to drive to Chicago, and half-way through Wisconsin, I spotted a Bald Eagle flying high overhead in the sunny blue sky. Eagles are one of the lovely elements of Wisconsin scenery, one of the reasons I enjoy life in the Northland. And early April is the time of year to see them. One of the best treats is to find two eagles in the blue spring sky. A mated pair does all kinds of lovely aerial courtship displays. But this particular eagle was all alone, and as I drove directly beneath it and lost sight of it, suddenly I heard a sound like a gunshot as an enormous splat of eagle poop hit my windshield. The car's speed combined with the eagle dropping's terminal velocity caused an awesome noise, and I was actually grateful that my windshield survived.   
Eagle poop is a messy, dark liquid, and this big job ended up right in the part of the windshield I actually need to look through. So I turned on my wipers and used a generous helping of washer fluid to clean it up as well as I could, but it mainly just smeared. I had to sit up very tall and erect and head for the next exit to really clean up the mess.   
I poured about a gallon of water and used my snow scraper on the mess, and at this close range I discovered that eagle poop is every bit as much an olfactory treat as it is a visual one. Eagles eat dead fish, and this time of year, fish are often well-decayed before the eagles sink their beaks in. Also, eagles specialize on other forms of carrion, like road-kills newly exposed by melting snowbanks. Their food smells bad enough going in, so imagine it coming out again! Fortunately, it was a breezy day and the job was quickly done.   
I thought that would be the end of my eagle poop adventure, but a few days later it rained. As soon as I started my windshield wipers, I discovered that the acidic dropping had eaten away the blade until it was nothing but tattered shreds. Birds in the hawk family have extremely strong digestive acids, capable of dissolving most bones and fur, and so small wonder the droppings had such a powerful effect on three-year-old rubber. But it was a powerful reminder to me of how lucky we are that we so seldom end up standing or driving in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time in eagle country. I had to rush to the nearest gas station to buy new wiper blades.  
My relatives in Chicago were extremely impressed by my eagle adventure. Being city people, they never get to see Bald Eagles at all, and think being pooped upon by an eagle is a rare and novel distinction. My sister, an alert listener to a good story, was shocked that I had actually cleaned up the mess, and asked if I wasn't going to get in serious trouble with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After all, isn't cleaning up eagle droppings a clear violation of the Endangered Feces Act?

Bald Eagle