Can Birds Control Their Bladders and Bowels?

Pavel1964/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Pavel1964/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Ken Saladin:

Birds don’t have a urinary bladder. Doing away with that is one of the hallmark adaptations of birds for flight, as a urine-filled bladder would weigh them down. They excrete their "urine" as a white paste, resembling toothpaste, mixed with feces, from a single opening called a vent, rather than an anus—although some sources, like the one I quote next, take a little liberty with the terms.

Contrary to another answer already given to this question, one ornithology website speaks of the birds’ “outer anal opening, which is closed by a strong sphincter muscle" (known as the cloaca). From my observations of birds, I feel sure that is correct.

Blue Footed Booby creating guano in Galapagos
Blue-footed booby creating guano in the Galápagos Islands.
pilesasmiles/iStock via Getty Images

Among other such observations, I’ve often watched the ground-nesting blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos Islands. When they’re sitting on the nest and have to defecate, they stand up, point their tail end away from the sun, and let out a white pasty squirt of mixed feces and urine. As the sun crosses the sky, they face in a different direction hour after hour, like feathered sundials, so the white guano forms a spoke-like array around the center of the nest. I don’t think they could do this if they didn’t have control over an anal (cloacal) sphincter.

I know also that many birds defecate just before they take flight (so do bats) in order to lighten the body a little. In tree-nesting birds (cup nests in branches, stick-nests of hawks and eagles, tree-hole nests of owls and woodpeckers), when the bird has to defecate, it stands up and hangs its tail end over the edge of the nest or outside the rim of the tree hole and lets go, rather than defecating in the nest. When seagulls and terns mob a person or a predator, they hover overhead and defecate profusely on their enemy. These behaviors, too, speak of a sphincter with voluntary control.

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In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

In 1989, some three decades after King had earned his doctorate, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

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Who Is 'The Real McCoy'?

Inventor Elijah McCoy is may or may not be "The Real McCoy."
Inventor Elijah McCoy is may or may not be "The Real McCoy."
Ypsilanti Historical Society, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

After taking a cool, carbonated sip of champagne from the Champagne region of France, you might say, “Ah, now that’s the real McCoy.” Sparkling wine from anywhere else is technically just sparkling wine.

The phrase “the real McCoy,” which can be used to describe any genuine version of something, has several possible origin stories. And while none of them mention champagne, a few do involve other types of alcohol.

According to HowStuffWorks, the earliest known recorded instance of the saying was an 1856 reference to whisky in the Scottish National Dictionary—"A drappie [drop] o' the real MacKay”—and by 1870, a pair of whisky distillers by the name of McKay had adopted the slogan “the real McKay” for their products. As the theory goes, the phrase made its long journey across the pond, where it eventually evolved into the Americanized “McCoy.”

Another theory suggests “the real McCoy” originated in the United States during Prohibition. In 1920, Florida-based rum runner Bill McCoy was the first enterprising individual to stock a ship with alcohol in the Caribbean, sail to New York, and idle at least three miles offshore, where he could sell his wares legally in what was then considered international waters. Since McCoy didn’t water down his alcohol with substances like prune juice, wood alcohol, and even turpentine, people believe his customers started calling his top-notch product “the real McCoy.” There’s no definitive proof that this origin story is true, but The Real McCoy rum distillery was founded on the notion.

There are also a couple other leading theories that have nothing to do with alcohol. In 1872, inventor Elijah McCoy patented a self-regulating machine that lubricated parts of a steam engine without the need for manual maintenance, allowing trains to run continuously for much longer distances. According to Snopes, the invention’s success spawned a plethora of poor-quality imitations, which led railroad personnel to refer to McCoy’s machines as “the real McCoy.”

Elijah McCoy’s invention modernized the transportation industry, but he wasn’t the only 19th-century McCoy who packed a punch. The other was welterweight champion Norman Selby, better known as Kid McCoy. In one story, McCoy decked a drunken bar patron to prove that he really was the famous boxer, prompting others to christen him “the real McCoy.” In another, his alleged penchant for throwing fights caused the press to start calling him “the real McCoy” to acknowledge when he was actually trying to win. And yet another simply suggests that the boxer’s popularity birthed so many McCoy-wannabes that Selby started to specify that he was, in fact, the real McCoy.

So which “the real McCoy” origin story is the real McCoy? The 1856 Scottish mention of “the real MacKay” came before Elijah McCoy’s railroad invention, Kid McCoy’s boxing career, and Bill McCoy’s rum-running escapades, but it’s possible that the phrase just gained popularity in different spheres at different times.

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