The Bird Poop That Changed The World
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 and our YouTube 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:
Why bird poop is white:
In 1856 US Congress enabled US citizens to take over unclaimed islands with guano on them:
Guano is in demand again today:
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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:
Image Credits: Farquhar, W.H. 1884. The Annals of Sandy Spring, Vol. I, Pg. xxix-xxx. Baltimore: Cushings & Bailey.
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.
Lorimor, J., Powers, W., Sutton, A. 2004. Manure Characteristics. MWPS-18, Section 1. Second Edition. Table 6. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Robinson, M.B. April 26, 2007. In Once-Rural Montgomery, a Rich History. The Washington Post.
S. Sands & Son. 1875. The American Farmer: Devoted to Agriculture, Horticulture and Rural Life. Vol. 4, Issue 12, pg. 417-418. Baltimore.
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.
Thanks also to the Sandy Spring Museum.