Brain Food: Gross But Real, New Projest Saves Birds from Porta-Potty Deaths

Oct 19, 2017

Getting stuck in a Porta-Potty is the stuff of nightmares. But it’s a foul reality for cavity-nesting birds like woodpeckers, boreal owls and American kestrels.

A boreal owl stuck in an outdoor vault restroom.
Credit U.S. Forest Service


Every year, thousands of these birds die in the holding tanks of self-contained vault restrooms found in many wilderness areas. That’s why Wyoming’s Teton Raptor Center created the Poo Poo Project, a simple screen devised to keep wildlife from being entrapped. David Watson runs the program.

Volunteer Dave Flechette installs a screen on a vault toilet on the Prescott National Forest.
Credit Susan Drown/Prescott Audubon Society

"So we came up with a design that has some flanges that flair out from the screen and those flanges are actually what sits on top of the vault pipe and so there’s a little gap between the vent pipe and the screen, and the screens really prevent, again, those birds from going down into that hole," says Watson.

Watson says public land agencies nationwide are joining the Poo Poo Project, including Grand Canyon National Park. 

Credit Courtesy

"We had two conservation milestones we were trying to hit this particular summer 2017, and one was a Poo Poo Project in every single state, and we were able to do that this summer. And then we also wanted to sell our 10,000th screen, and that’s an opportunity for us to create awareness of this issue,” says Watson.

In northern Arizona, the Coconino, Prescott, Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests have all signed on to the project.