Question for the biology folks

Attention biology folks and nature nerds:

What the heck is this?


Clearly it’s a fecal pellet, with a bit of uric acid along the edges, which makes me think “bird poop.” And the location in which I found it would seem to back up that supposition: one of my railing planters, which hangs on the outside of a veranda railing three stories up. The poop was perfectly positioned to have been deposited if a bird had perched on the narrow end of the planter, facing outward.

But what kind of bird makes a solid poo pile five centimeters long?

Would a raptor do this? We do have quite a few Little Owls (Athena noctua) in the area, but I’m not familiar with owl poop. Owl pellets, yes, but what actually comes out the other end? It’s surprisingly difficult to find images of owl poop on the Internet, though I did find one mention of Barn Owl poop being known as “whitewash” because it’s so full of uric acid, with very little solid matter. That doesn’t match up.

Geese produce quite solid poops, but we don’t have them in our town and even if we did, I’m really not seeing a duck or goose perching on my veranda railing pot.

Does anybody have a clue?


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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22 Responses to Question for the biology folks

  1. Power Wench says:

    We see lots of poops from good-sized birds around here, but none look like that. That thing you found has way too much solid and not enough white. And the configuration is just weird. Bird poop solids I’ve seen are all fairly short and straight cylindrical pieces. They don’t look like long curled loops of stuff.

    What makes you sure it’s poop? Could it be something fungal that grew in the moist soil of the planter?

  2. oregon expat says:

    I’m also baffled by both of the things you mention — the percent of solids and the loopy construction. But I can’t imagine it’s a fungus, since that particular planter holds a laurel, and thus does not get watered as often as the more sensitive plants. Plus the location up on the railing means it gets hammered with heat and wind (and this is August, furnace time), so it’s not good fungal habitat.

    Also, it wasn’t “planted” in the soil. It’s just sitting on top.

  3. Alma says:

    Some kind of reptile? Have you got any largeish reptiles around there?

    • oregon expat says:

      Not that large! We do have geckos, and gecko poo looks like dried mud with a little bit of uric acid — a very similar ratio of dark to white as this mystery poo — but it’s about 100 times smaller.

  4. Ana says:

    Do you have any swallow or martin nests near your balcony? Could it be a bit of nest that came loose? It looks a bit like soiled clay.

    • oregon expat says:

      I wish we did! I put up nesting platforms/clay nests, but our only outside wall faces the wrong direction. Swallows and martins prefer north or west-facing walls.

  5. Power Wench says:

    I know, I know! One of your neighbors has (had) a large iguana or snake that has escaped and is now lurking about your veranda!

  6. Scout says:

    Any chance it’s something off the building or a nearby tree… some kind of weird bark growth or a clump of dirt formed in a strange place fell down… The top left corner looks too flat to be poop…?

  7. Cathy White says:

    Does it smell?

    • oregon expat says:

      Nope. But it’s also totally desiccated from baking in Algarvean heat and sun for several days. Right now it’s the equivalent of the buffalo “chips” that early Americans used to burn.

  8. Ana_ñ says:

    It could be that a small dog pooped nearby, and a magpie or crow carried the dried poop to your veranda. And pooped on it for good measure, hence the white spots.

  9. Lynn says:

    I referred this question to my nephew the “bird-man.” This is his reply:

    Now that’s a tuffy…Without reading anything I thought raccoon off the bat. Or even a cat. It sounds like the location of the veranda would make it difficult enough that the only plausible animal would be a bird.
    Bird “scat” is very runny. They exit all waste through a cloaca at the same time and it gives the splat effect. Even a Barred Owl scat is hardly much of anything. Definitely not 2″ long and solid. It has the look of an owl pellet but the lack of hair/feathers rules that out.
    I’m learning toward a very agile feline.
    Let me know if she has the answer!

    I have never come up with a bird question that he can’t answer, so … I’ve gotta believe him!

    • oregon expat says:

      You must have forgotten to mention that this mystery poop is in southern Portugal — no raccoons here! And as a lifelong cat owner who has seen and scooped approximately fifty bazillion cat turds, I can state with confidence that a cat did not do this. So it’s still a mystery.

      • Ana says:

        We don’t have raccoons, but there are fuinhas (marten, I think) throughout the country. I have no idea if their scat looks like that of a raccoon, but they are both opportunistic predators, so it would make sense if it had some similar characteristics. And fuinhas are pretty comfortable in human environments, so maybe you had a little visitor.

        • oregon expat says:

          I’ve seen these little guys on bike rides! So cute. But I’m still having a hard time picturing a fuinha climbing up three stories of vertical brick wall. Are they that agile?

          • Ana says:

            They’re great climbers. They climb trees to get to squirrels, birds and egg. And I’ve heard of some being a bit of a nuissance by getting into crawl spaces and attics. So, it’s not impossible, especially if it’s a brick wall instead of a smooth surface.

          • oregon expat says:

            It’s brick plastered over; the typical southern Portugal construction style. Thus pretty smooth. But who knows?

      • Lynn says:

        Well, I did actually mention Portugal – but he is a busy guy with a new business and it may not have completely ‘registered’ with him. He also may not be up on all the other Portugal critters! But, he does know his birds! 🙂
        Lifelong cat-lover here, too, and I agree certainly about domestic cats … different shape and color, etc. Do you have any kinds of smaller wild cats?
        Probably will remain a mystery until you catch ‘something’ in the act!

        • oregon expat says:

          The only smaller wild cat here (that I know of) is the Iberian lynx, which is extremely rare and would not be seen in an urban area. I think you’re right; it’s going to remain a mystery.

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