Man Waded into Tower of Bird Poo ... For Science!

Photo: Chris Grooms/Queen's University

Ah, the glamorous life of a scientist. The working with expensive lab equipments, wearing those stylish lab coats and ... wading chest-deep in bird poo?!

Scientists at Canada's Queen's University discovered a 6-foot deep tower of bird excrement in an abandoned chimney on campus and realized they can use it to find the reasons of the declining population of the North American chimney swift bird.

"What we have is a history book that we didn't think we had before," said Dr. John Smol, one of the study's authors. Smol went on to explain that, to his knowledge, this is the first time anyone has ever measured stratified towers of bird droppings.

With this data, the researchers hope to show a link between the use of the insecticide DDT and the lower numbers of insect-eating birds, in particular, chimney swifts.

Chimney swifts roost in smoke stacks of all kinds. The Queen's University chimney was home to a population of 4,000 up until it was covered over with mesh in 1993. The two-metre stack of guano represents 50 years of bird droppings.

But first, someone actually has to go inside the tower of bird poo. Like my labmates in grad school used to say, "Science is a harsh mistress.": Link

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