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The color of coot feces and other kinds, too

Why theirs is teal and ours brown

Dear Matthew Alice: Where I exercise daily, the recreation area east of Crown Point, whole communities of coots cross and recross the cement path, leaving their droppings behind them. Coot turds are a startling shade of teal. What accounts for this, the quantity of chlorophyll ingested by these grass browsers? Come to that, why is most bird shit white and mammalian shit brown? — Ned Paynter, Crown Point

Designer droppings are characteristic of the American coot, a duck-like, dark gray shorebird with a white beak. In addition to lawn-grazing, it dabbles at marsh edges and dives to the bottom of ponds to feed and, among other things, eats algae and other green or blue-green pond growth. Their diet colors their droppings.

Bird doo is the end product of a necessarily very efficient system, a link with their reptilian past. Birds gulp their food down whole, soften it with saliva, douse it with acids and enzymes, grind it up with stones, reroute solid waste and liquid waste into a single structure, squeeze every bit of water they can out of it, and plop the remains out all at once on your car. The mucus-like white part is the bird equivalent of urine. It’s mostly uric acid, which is crystalline and white. Birds metabolize at a very high rate because of their special heat regulation requirements and because they need to jettison every unnecessary bit of weight for efficient flight. One scientist timed a berry going through a warbler — 12 minutes from start to finish. Average digestion time for a songbird, though, is more like 30 to 40 minutes.

We, on the other hand, can turn up the thermostat and only have to get our big butts up off the couch from time to time, so speedy digestion isn’t a necessity. Feces can vary in shade, depending on the amount of protein in the diet, but the brown color is a result of a combination of undigested cellulose that’s been worked on by bile and stomach acids, dead cells from the stomach and intestines, and a whole bunch of dead bacteria. (Intestinal bacteria help us absorb nutrients, not digest food.) About a third of fecal dry weight is bacteria. Our urine isn’t white because it’s mostly water and urea, not highly concentrated uric acid.

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Dear Matthew Alice: Where I exercise daily, the recreation area east of Crown Point, whole communities of coots cross and recross the cement path, leaving their droppings behind them. Coot turds are a startling shade of teal. What accounts for this, the quantity of chlorophyll ingested by these grass browsers? Come to that, why is most bird shit white and mammalian shit brown? — Ned Paynter, Crown Point

Designer droppings are characteristic of the American coot, a duck-like, dark gray shorebird with a white beak. In addition to lawn-grazing, it dabbles at marsh edges and dives to the bottom of ponds to feed and, among other things, eats algae and other green or blue-green pond growth. Their diet colors their droppings.

Bird doo is the end product of a necessarily very efficient system, a link with their reptilian past. Birds gulp their food down whole, soften it with saliva, douse it with acids and enzymes, grind it up with stones, reroute solid waste and liquid waste into a single structure, squeeze every bit of water they can out of it, and plop the remains out all at once on your car. The mucus-like white part is the bird equivalent of urine. It’s mostly uric acid, which is crystalline and white. Birds metabolize at a very high rate because of their special heat regulation requirements and because they need to jettison every unnecessary bit of weight for efficient flight. One scientist timed a berry going through a warbler — 12 minutes from start to finish. Average digestion time for a songbird, though, is more like 30 to 40 minutes.

We, on the other hand, can turn up the thermostat and only have to get our big butts up off the couch from time to time, so speedy digestion isn’t a necessity. Feces can vary in shade, depending on the amount of protein in the diet, but the brown color is a result of a combination of undigested cellulose that’s been worked on by bile and stomach acids, dead cells from the stomach and intestines, and a whole bunch of dead bacteria. (Intestinal bacteria help us absorb nutrients, not digest food.) About a third of fecal dry weight is bacteria. Our urine isn’t white because it’s mostly water and urea, not highly concentrated uric acid.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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