The Bird Poop That Changed The World
- Published on Dec 14, 2018
- Thanks to my grandmother for inspiring this story, and to my mother for helping make it. If you like our videos, please consider supporting MinuteEarth on Patreon! - Alex
Bird poop was the gateway fertilizer that turned humanity onto the imported-chemical-based farming system of modern agriculture.
Thanks to our Patreon patrons www.patreon.com/MinuteEarth and our USclip members.
To learn more, start your googling with these keywords:
Guano: seabird (or bat) poop. From the indigenous Peruvian word “wanu”, meaning “manure that’s good for fertilizer"
Manure: animal poop used as fertilizer (typically cow or pig poop)
Fertilizer: a chemical-containing substance added to soil to provide nutrients to plants
Nitrate mining: digging up the naturally occurring solid form of the element nitrogen (sodium nitrate)
Phosphate mining: digging up the naturally occurring solid form of the element phosphorus
Haber-Bosch process: the major industrial method to take nitrogen gas out of the air and convert it to ammonia
If you liked this week’s video, you might also like:
Our fertilizer is killing us. Here's a fix: grist.org/article/billionaires-and-bacteria-are-racing-to-save-us-from-death-by-fertilizer/
Why bird poop is white: www.audubon.org/news/what-makes-bird-poop-white
In 1856 US Congress enabled US citizens to take over unclaimed islands with guano on them: americanhistory.si.edu/norie-atlas/guano-islands-act
Guano is in demand again today: www.nytimes.com/2008/05/30/world/americas/30peru.html
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Credits (and Twitter handles):
Script Writer, Video Director, and Narrator: Alex Reich (@alexhreich)
Video Illustrator: Jesse Agar (@JesseAgarYT)
With Contributions From: Henry Reich, Ever Salazar, Peter Reich, David Goldenberg
Music by: Nathaniel Schroeder: www.soundcloud.com/drschroeder
Image Credits: Farquhar, W.H. 1884. The Annals of Sandy Spring, Vol. I, Pg. xxix-xxx. Baltimore: Cushings & Bailey. bit.ly/2QOWGKr
Canby, T.Y. 2002. The Annals of Sandy Spring, Vol. VI. Introduction: Pg. 26-27. Sandy Spring Museum.
Cushman, G.T. 2013. Guano and the opening of the Pacific World: A global ecological history. Cambridge University Press.
Cushman, G.T., personal communication, October 2018.
Farquhar, W.H. 1884. The Annals of Sandy Spring, Vol. I, Pg. xxix-xxx. Baltimore: Cushings & Bailey. bit.ly/2QOWGKr
Lorimor, J., Powers, W., Sutton, A. 2004. Manure Characteristics. MWPS-18, Section 1. Second Edition. Table 6. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. msue.anr.msu.edu/uploads/files/ManureCharacteristicsMWPS-18_1.pdf
Robinson, M.B. April 26, 2007. In Once-Rural Montgomery, a Rich History. The Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/25/AR2007042501342.html
S. Sands & Son. 1875. The American Farmer: Devoted to Agriculture, Horticulture and Rural Life. Vol. 4, Issue 12, pg. 417-418. Baltimore. play.google.com/books/reader?id=ul1TAAAAYAAJ&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA417
Stabler, H.O. 1950. The Annals of Sandy Spring, Vol. V, Pg. 43. American Publishing Company.
Szpak, P., et al. 2012. Stable isotope biogeochemistry of seabird guano fertilization: results from growth chamber studies with Maize (Zea mays). PloS one, 7(3), e33741. journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0033741
Thanks also to the Sandy Spring Museum: www.sandyspringmuseum.org/
- Science & Technology