Open Space Background

Droppings... or much ado about doo-doo


Scat of Unknown Origin

Call them what you may droppings, scat, doo-doo, meadow muffins, horse apples, sign, manure, feces or poop - if it weren't for certain insects of the world, we would be into our armpits in the stuff. When I was a kid listening to "The Lone Ranger" on the radio, the Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto would pull up their horses and Tonto would emote, "Ugh, buffalo sign!" He was looking at fresh droppings of a herd of buffaloes and could tell by the activity on the droppings just when they had been deposited. Either that or he was looking at horse manure of the party they were chasing and, from this, could tell just how far away they were. I never understood what "buffalo sign" was, until recently.

Anyone hiking in the Old Borges Ranch area knows what cow manure is but, rest easy, there is more to this story. You have also noticed the many flies hanging around both horses and cows. They are there for a purpose and that is to raise their kids. When a cow or horse defecates, these flies immediately buzz down from the rump of the animal to this warm "nest" and deposit their eggs. The residual warmth from the cow, the undigested food in the droppings and many kinds of bacteria provide shelter, initial warmth and then food for the emerging larva. Soon thereafter, a fly emerges and finds another cow and the cycle goes on. These activities reduce the volume of manure and weathering also dries it to further reduce the volume. Soon, the entire patty is incorporated into the scheme of things.

Another thing about the cow and horse is that they are both vegetarians. Their droppings do no harm to the landscape as does a meat-eating dog's droppings, for example. Dog droppings on a lawn can "burn" the lawn.
burrowing owl

Burrowing Owl

Learning from the owl

There are other "droppings" that could be of interest to you also. Look for "owl pellets" that this bird disgorges from its stomach. If you break it open (don't worry, a few hours in the sun will dry it out and sterilize it. However, do wash your hands before you eat!) Many times there are tiny bones of mice and birds that the owl has eaten and cannot digest, so it rolls them up into a neat package and "throws" it up from its throat.



Leaving messages

Coyote droppings are also interesting. These animals eat "the whole thing," bones, fur and all. Usually, there is a small "twist" at one end of these droppings and that further indicates that a coyote was here. Their droppings are laced with indigestible fur and are usually located on pathways used by humans. These roads and paths also make it easier to get from point "A" to point "B" and they seem to enjoy "marking" these roads with their "sign" to let us know that they were here.

Jerry Fritzke
March 2003