Ruled By the Stomach

An excerpt from The Sky Calls, due for release in late November, 2018!

Note: Many bird species, but most famously, birds of prey, regurgitate prey remains after stomach digestion is completed. The pellets are composed of fur and feathers mainly– stuff that does not submit to chemical digestion. Owl pellets also contain a notable amount of bone. The process of pellet “egestion” is much different than vomiting. Reverse peristalsis is the primary force vs. strong gastric and abdominal contractions. If you are a bird of prey, this would be a nearly daily occurrence and as routine as going to the bathroom. Check out this video of a bald eagle casting a pellet. Let’s see what David (who has transformed into a large golden eagle) feels the first time he has to cast a pellet:

It made sense to David that eagles would derive pleasure from eating and digesting a big meal. After all, it would be a luxury to find large quantities of food, and it meant that one might not need to hunt for a day or two. It made sense, too, that their bodies would naturally reward them with endorphins, a variety of feel-good hormones, to increase their sense of well-being and cause them to be sedentary and conserve blood flow for digestion. David’s heavy contentment continued for six hours until his stomach was mostly empty.

The next morning, David’s belly was hollow and demanding again, but not as intensely as before. He began his day like others, stretching, pooping, and preening in that order. About an hour after waking, his stomach tightened. He belched and instead of tasting strong acid, as he had the day before, he tasted only dry air. He tried to resume preening but then there was a strong tightening in his jaws, forcing them open, followed by another powerful contraction of his stomach and relaxation of his crop. He was mildly queasy, but not like when he would throw up as a human. He lowered his head and opened his beak wide just as his stomach lurched again and his throat expanded. Then he had an urge to heave and his abdominal muscles tightened up. His breath hissed out of his closed glottis and a wad of damp feathers tumbled out of his gullet onto the floor beneath his perch. Then, just as quick as the urges came on, they were gone.

David cocked his head and studied the pellet on the floor. He licked the roof of his mouth and swallowed, surprised that it neither tasted nor smelled offensive. He fluffed his face and head feathers out, feeling a wave of relief. He roused and shook his head vigorously, then sighed and relaxed. Egesting a pellet really hadn’t been so unpleasant after all. His stomach contracted and squeezed out a last bubble of gas into his crop before it quieted down. But minutes later, the dull, cold smolder of hunger returned.

So this is how it is. Food is like a drug for birds of prey. It felt incredible to stuff myself. Then I came down from that high, and now that I regurgitated my prey remains, I need another fix. This magnificent body and the gift of flight come with costs, I guess. I’m ruled by my stomach now.

As David contemplated this, he realized that he must be the first eagle to ever question if there was more to life than a full crop.

2 thoughts on “Ruled By the Stomach

  1. Hehe, I loved how you described all the process of that; but now I have a doubt… the stomach can just “save” the pellet until the bird is fully awake and ok at the next day? or the “urgency” can wake up the bird at midnight? hmm

    1. There have been studies on what influences the meal-to-pellet ratio. It was found that some birds will eat another meal on top of a pre-existing pellet. Some will wait until after egesting the pellet. But, those were captive birds with no pressure to hunt and eat. But, it does not seem to interrupt their sleep schedule. It’s not generally imperative for them to egest it until they want to hunt and eat again (as it occupies space and weight).

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