The term, in Mandarin slang, for "bird shit" is pronounced tian1 shi3. This, in and of itself is nothing particularly interesting, but within the etymology behind it exists a bit of Chinese humour, for it is a homophone of the Mandarin word for "angel" ("天使", or "heavenly messenger"). Pronounced the same, and out of context -- or even within context, but in a moment of amusement -- the two terms are indistinguishable.

With this said, the humour is fairly straightforward, and immediately obvious -- it is "shit from heaven" -- a perhaps most apt description to anyone who has driven or been caught walking beneath a flock of seagulls.

Why should you want know about bird shit? Why be concerned? Well, beyond pure, simple and primal curiosity, a knowledge of this matter is very important to the owners of exotic birds, such as the multi-thousand-dollar parrots and cockatoos that have been kidnapped from their natural habitats for the owning pleasure of people who have too much money, because the condition of pet bird shit is an important indicator of pet bird health.

"Stop saying shit. It bothers me." OK. Alternatives are 'poop', 'excrement', 'droppings', or even 'guano'. (Yes, guano means bird shit as well as bat shit. Oops. Sorry.) I'll stick with 'poop' here.

Of more general concern, however, is that bird poop is a serious world-wide problem that may strike any one of us suddenly and out of the blue. Granted, it is most problemsome in urban areas. The degree of danger ranges from someone merely having a moment or day ruined by an unexpected deposit on the head or the fine suit to the tragic collapse of bridges and roofs of public structures. It has also been shown that marine feeding avians are responsible for extracting radioactive materials from the oceans and depositing them in significant concentrations on land in their crap. Hmm. I wonder if that works for the gold dissolved in ocean water as well.

Any intelligent, observant person, a child usually, will notice something odd about bird poop. It generally has an expected dark part and a surprising white part. The 'dropping' may also be quite dry or it may be thoroughly wet. Now if that doesn't stimulate your curiosity, I wonder what might. Well, the explanation is that bird poop has three components. The dark part is your actual feces, the residue material that comes out of the bowel after most of the nutrients and water have been extracted. The white part is composed of solid urates, which are extracted from the blood and expelled by the kidneys. (Urates are expelled in the urine of mammals.) The relative size of the two solid components is determined by diet and species. The third component is the bird's urine. Why is urine considered a part of the bird poop? Well, because it is usually evacuated at the same time as the solid parts and from the same orifice, which, by the way, is poetically called the 'vent'. The vent, even further by the way, accomodates the sexual act for birds as well as providing for both defecation and urination. Efficiency is critical for things that fly, you know. And speaking of flying, we should all be grateful to know that very few birds can dump while in flight, the exceptions being the gliders and soarers. The use of muscles during flight pretty much prevents inadvertent and random releasing of poop bombs by flying birds.

That your day might be altogether ruined by showing up at a date or job interview with a splattering of bird shit in your hair or on your otherwise impressive suit doesn't need explanation, and visitors to urban parks have resigned themselves to the omnipresence of pigeon poop, but how can bird poop destroy concrete and steel structures? Well, all bird doo-doo contains corrosive chemicals that break down concrete and weaken the iron reinforcement bars that are inside it. When bridge supports or the roofs and ledges of urban buildings become the long-term hang-outs for large masses of flocking birds, reduction of the strength of the structural materials and the weight of the accumulated poop can pose a danger to the integrity structure and can lead to collapse. That's almost as serious as the damage to the paint job on your Beemer or Lambo. City governments and building managers are fighting back by hiring specialists to remove the crap regularly, and designers and engineers are now taking bird poop into consideration as a design factor. We as individuals, however, remain helpless and hapless targets for the uncaring feathered poopers above us.


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