Monday, August 31, 2009

First in farting!

Blue Jay
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Back in 1965, a human named Alan Richard Weisbrod wrote his master's thesis at Cornell University titled "The Maintenance Activities of the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata." The guy had absolutely no respect for Blue Jay privacy, but overall it's a pretty good thesis. Except WHOA! On page 47-48, he writes what may be the first description of a bird farting ever written!! Check it out:
An interesting phenomena [shhhh! He means "phenomenon." We jays would make excellent editors!] was observed on two cold days during December of 1963. These observations were made shortly after noon while I was looking through the window of the office into the flight in which captive jays are kept. Several birds were perched directly overhead and in front of me, at distances varying from one to one and a quarter meters. One of the birds in front of me defecated. A small puff of whitish gas was expelled along with the feces. The feces dropped from the bird while the gas wafted below and parallel to the slightly raised tail, until it dissipated rapidly into the cold air. The gas could be clearly seen against the dark-colored eave that hangs over the sheltered perches, upon which the birds were fluffed and resting. Several days later a bird perched in the same position was observed to defecate with the accompanying wisp of whitish gas.

It is common knowledge that mammals flatulate and that some food items seem to increase the frequency and volume of gas-expulsion from the lower intestines. Since birds feed on many of the same types of foods as mammals and their digestive metabolism is basically similar, there seems to be no theoretical reason why birds cannot also flatulate, but flatulence has never been reported in birds to my knowledge. In all probability, the observed whitish gas was mostly warm water vapor which was released as the bird defecated in the cold still air. Whether this gas was the product of the digestive processes or was simply condensation of moisture from the feces could not be determined.
Mark Twain once wrote, "It ain't no use to tell me that a bluejay hasn't got a sense of humor because I know better." And it's lucky we do, or how could we ever live that down!


Anonymous said...

Where was his advisor when this was written? A mistake like that is not good in a thesis.

Laura Erickson said...

This was written in the 60s, when theses and dissertations were typed out on a typewriter, before the kinds of typewriter ribbons that made correcting easy were available. If Weisbrod, his advisers, or any editors noticed (remember--this was in a paragraph about farting, so eyebrows may have been lifted so high that the pupils couldn't even focus on usage errors anyway) and was a stickler for grammatical and word usage accuracy, they still might have given this a pass rather than force the retyping of an entire page.