Why is it always right after a fresh wash, the birds come out to do their damage? You’ve just cleaned your cherished red car, then the local songbird comes along to help you redecorate—with poop. According to a study from the UK, birds prefer to poop on red cars, but the Motor MythBusters are skeptical about their science.
Related: The Motor MythBusters aren’t the only MotorTrend App stars that occasionally deal with animal scat. David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan sometimes have to clean the stuff out junkyard cars on Roadkill. Find out if the Motor MythBusters can prove birds really do prefer to poop on red cars and how Roadkill’s Disgustang earned its name, only on the MotorTrend App Your free trial is just a few clicks away!
Bisi Ezerioha, Tory Belleci, and Faye Hadley—the Motor MythBusters team—don’t fully believe the results of the UK study for two big reasons: the study was self-reported and there was no control group. That means the researchers conducting the study called local vehicle owners, asked them what color their car was, and how often they found bird poop on their car. Even if every participant in the study was honest and accurate, the variability of factors involved with that many cars spread over such a wide area mean the results of the UK study aren’t conclusive.
Do Birds See in Color?
It’s a common misconception that dogs do not see in color, but what do we know of a bird’s visual spectrum? Can Polly even perceive that you have a red car? What is red, anyway? The visible light spectrum for humans ranges from 400 nanometers (violet) to 700 nanometers (red), and we detect those wavelengths with structures in our eyes called rods and cones. Rods perceive light and motion, while cones differentiate the colors. Dog and bird eyes have the same structures but with some key differences.
Humans have trichromatic vision; we have three types of cones that can perceive red, blue, and green. Dogs only have dichromatic vision. Their two types of cones perceive blue and yellow, but they have more rods in their eyes allowing them to see much better in low-light conditions.
Birds went above and beyond in the evolution department with tetrachromatic vision. That’s five distinct cone structures that can see all the same colors humans do, with the addition of ultraviolet light. The fifth is a double cone that scientists don’t fully understand yet.
So, yes, the local birds can see your red car and in brighter and more vivid detail than you can. But does that make them want to poop on it? Ornithologists (scientists who specialize in studying birds) aren’t too sure. As they learn more about how birds perceive and interpret light, it’s ultraviolet light that seems to be the most attractive to birds. Maybe the question should be: Which car paint color reflects the most ultraviolet light?
Protect Your Car from Bird Poop
That stuff you see coming out of your feathered friend’s backside isn’t all poop. Birds—like reptiles, amphibians, and fish—have a single, do-everything orifice called a cloaca for all their reproductive and excreting needs. That potent chemical combo is full of uric acid giving most bird poop a pH level of 3.5 to 4. For reference, neutral pH is 7 (water) and hydrochloric acid is 1.5 to 3.
Bird poop can quickly eat through wax and non-chemically resistant protective coatings, and once it does that, there’s nothing protecting your car’s clear coat or paint. If you let bird poop sit and dry then get wet again—from morning dew or rain—the acidic white stuff can etch into your paint, creating nasty surface imperfections that can be expensive and time-consuming to remove.
How can you protect your car’s paint? The easiest thing to do is not park under a perch: telephone wires, trees, even the plumbing and electrical conduits that run through parking structures. The next best option would be to immediately remove the offending bird poop, but that’s not always a viable option. Ceramic coatings come in handy here with chemically resistant and durable finishes made of liquid quartz that bond to the surface of your car and can last months when properly applied.
Then there’s the more-popular-everyday vinyl wrap. Vinyl wraps are chemically stable and resistant, much cheaper than a quality paint job, and allow owners near infinite customization combinations without the hundreds of hours it can take to paint a car. The Motor MythBusters aren’t worried about any of that, though; they just want to find out which car color birds will poop on the most.
Lead image by Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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