If you have birded for any length of time you know the nightmare scenario. You are far from any kind of facility where you might take advantage of modern, or even primitive, plumbing. Your stomach is doing backflips and twists and making all kinds of disturbing gurgling noises. You try to hold out, walking with the peculiar gait of a person with their butt cheeks clamped firmly together but there is no stopping what is trying to get out into the air. You are a birder, you are in the woods, and you have to poop. What next?
Let us draw the curtain on this unfortunate scene and discuss what can be done to make such scenarios less horrific. First of all, every birder backpack, rucksack, or other holder of materials should have toilet paper, or, failing that, tissues. Don’t resort to what I had to do once in the vicinity of the East Pond of Jamaica Bay and emerge sockless from the bushes. Second of all, know what plants and bugs might cause problems when you are trying to find a private place to do your business and don’t plant your naked keister in or make your deposit on, say, a patch of poison ivy or a nest of biting ants. Third, if you are birding with others, try to post a lookout so no one comes upon you while you are in such a compromised position. After all, it is difficult to look dignified with your pants around your ankles and yesterday’s lunch on the ground.
But perhaps more important than being prepared for digestive disaster in the field is preparing in advance through diet so as to avoid the issue altogether. After all, if you eat five bowls of bran cereal and chase them down with a couple glasses of prune juice you had better not move more than five steps from a toilet. While no one (hopefully) takes things to such extremes it doesn’t hurt to think about your diet and the effect it might have on your pooping frequency prior to spending an extended amount of time away from plumbing. You should either plan ahead in terms of eating food that will not cause disaster or you should wear a diaper.
To answer the question asked in the title of this blog post, yes, of course birders poop in the woods. We really, really, really, really, try not to but sometimes it just can’t be helped.
What is your worst birding and pooping related story? Do tell in the comments!
Poop Week is a week of themed posts on 10,000 Birds that cover the intersection of poop and birding, a fertile precinct if there ever was one. Rather than just discuss the horror of a pigeon dropping droppings on someone’s head we decided to really get down the nitty-gritty details of poop, to the point where it is squishing up between our toes. Not only is Poop Week a fascinating way to spend seven days in June it is also a serious attempt to elevate the level of discourse in the bird blogosphere, which, as we all have no choice but to admit, is far too low. Enjoy, and make sure to wipe up afterwards, would you?
The main thing with “pooping anywhere” is DO NOT remove your bins-or you are bound to miss a really good bird! 🙂
@ Clare and Grant,
yes indeed keep your bins on but remember to shorten the strap to avoid splashback while in the crouched position. Losing socks I can live with, but smeary optics turns a good day bad.
Last time i had to poop while birding i had to go home!!!
Wow, best post ever.
Sadly, I have many horror stories like this. Although I’ve never emerged sockless (LOL!!!!). My worst story is when I was in Costa Rica and got some serious food poisoning. I have never been more sick. We then had a 3 hour drive on REALLY bad roads with no civilization nearby followed by a 1-hour boat ride, followed by birding. I owe it to some sort of divine intervention that I didn’t crap my pants or have to force the van to pull over. I had played out a hundred different scenarios in my head. It was a nightmare. Also, I had a fever which just sucked.
Also, in SE AZ once, I was eating way too much Mexican food. I had to step off the trail briefly and do my business. I missed the only Scott’s Oriole of the trip. Oh well.
I was looking in vain for lifer boreal chickadees in the wilds of northern Maine when the urge struck. Mid-squat, as if summoned out of the woods by some disgusting version of Aquaman’s fish telepathy call, three boreal chickadees appeared just feet away. Though they were close enough for me to get a Birding cover shot, in my awkward state I was unable to reach my camera and couldn’t do anything but laugh at myself and ponder the birds’ curious perversion. Didn’t see any others the whole trip.
@Nick: Isn’t that just the way?
I haven’t had a poop emergency, but there’ve been a handful of times I’ve literally (and near painfully) counted the minutes until the nature center opened, in order to empty out the other tube.
Moral of the story: No coffee or tea before birding. (Hot chocolate or juice OK)
Better the woods than the prairie!
I had no idea that our local nature center had security cameras along the trails….
Similar to Patrick, Quail eggs at New Years in Quito did me in, and about 20 minutes into a three and a half hour motorized dugout canoe ride down the Napo River my insides rebelled. Every ounce of will was drawn on in that ride, and while I vaguely remember shouts like “Look! Is that a Harpy Eagle” I stared continually at a spot on the floor, now wanting to risk a drop in concentration.
There’s more to the story, that involves a giant tarantula but that is a conversation for another time and place.
Easy on the coffee!!!!!
I totally agree with Clare and Grant: Never remove your bins when emtying your buns!
Am I the only one who has a Poop List? Wood Thrush, Ruffed Grouse, Black Capped Chickadees (they were laughing at me, but to be honest I enjoyed their company), among others. My best: My Lifer Alder Flycatcher!!!!!!!!!! Heard during mid-squat.
I find the best addition to a birder’s pack is Imodium! This has prevented me from having even a single hilarious pooping-while-birding story.
OMG, I’ve found my people.
Last night – last night! – thanks to a combination of 5+ hours in an old truck on rocky, winding forest roads [we were owling] along with consumption of petroleum-byproduct “snacks,” I wound up hurling on the road sometime after midnight like a character from Jersey Shore. Bonus: I was the driver. Huge mitigating factor: we were returning home after finding a Flammulated Owl, first for our SoCal county this year, yay us.
No poopage though, thank the powers. [Sockless…! I LOL’ed.]
@Everyone: Great stuff!
@Leslie: We really need more details than that…
Ive lost tee shirts…underwear…taking a dump in the field while unprepared can be a nightmare. There is nothing worse that feebly grabbing handfuls of grass because there is no plant with a leaf within 50 yards…yes, always carry tp!
Wow, Poop Week is off to such a great start! I can see the future of 10,000 Birds now–Chum Week, Regurgitation Week, Peepee Week, Phlegm Week, and, best of all, Jizz Week.
LOL I want to second JIZZ week!
Okay so I didn’t have a pooping in the woods story, but once upon a time I heard a blue-headed vireo in deep woods. I went looking around and eventually found it, which was amazing! It was only a few feet above me in a tree, singing. At some point something on the forest floor caught my eye and I looked straight ahead, and realized the vireo had stopped singing, and then I felt it right on the part of my hair…bird poo. So yup, I’ve been pooped on by a life bird!
Thanks Corey, I now have a new way to wipe when all else fails.
@Corey: I am sure when you emerged sockless you claimed you got sucked into the mud at East Pond so badly you were lucky to get your shoes back!
great post on a topic we can all relate to!
I myself have not pooped in the woods, but whilst on my ill-fated pursuit of the Western [redacted] Reef-heron I did nearly step in someone else’s deposit. It was very jarring and in an odd way a bit disturbing.
I suspect the culprit was one of the park’s many homeless residents and not a birder, but I would beg you to consider packing a small trowel with your t.p. and burying the evidence.
@ Donna and Lindsey “Jizz week”-now in Australia “jizz” is “the indefinable quality of a particular species-the vibe it gives off that aids in identification”-you don’t mean that do you!!?? 🙂
Even my little kids know that mullen is a friend indeed when you get a cold poo sweat and the abdominal anaconda wants freedom. Nothing beats the charmain-like softness of a thick mullen leaf! Leaving behind a couple of soiled socks or underwear is tacky enough to be golf behavior, and not recommended. Use a plastic bag to remove such refuse(and the poop if you can). I think some flycatchers are known as “shitter birds” in native tongues because they hang out by latrines to eat the bugs.
In a strangely unrelated note, a man is being sought in Colorado after fleeing from a outhouse where he was hiding(shirtless, shoeless, but not shitless) in the poop down below at a music festival after being discovered by a lady using the toilet. Second case that I remember here. The first one involved a video camera that exposed the creep because he forgot to put tape over the red record light!
I, sadly, don’t have any good field poop stories.
I can say, though, that the most disgusting public restroom I ever used was in at Anzalduas County Park in southern Texas, which was only marginally better than finding a bush…