The internet got a talking-to about the danger of eating icicles from a weather expert’s TikTok video released at the end of 2020. The TikTok shows Katie Nikolau, a meteorologist with KMEG in Sioux City, Iowa, declaring that icicles formed on a roof contain bird poop, and a lot of it at that. When it comes to people eating icicles off their homes, she says, “Please don’t do that. I’m a meteorologist, I should know.” She ends her TikTok with the mic drop: “You’re eating poop.”
The TikTok went viral. As of now, the video has been played over fifteen million times. Media outlets like Buzzfeed, Yahoo News, and TMZ picked up the story. But is bird poo really such a big component of icicles? And if so, how dangerous is it?
“The whole theory that bird poop is the big problem just seems alarmist to me and not very realistic,” says Bridget J. Stuchbury, a professor of biology at York University. “My observation as a bird expert is that in the wintertime it’s not all that common to see hordes of birds perching on your roof and pooping on it, to be frank.”
In Toronto, one may spy the occasional robin or starling on a rooftop in winter. But most of our birds migrate south for the winter, Stuchbury adds. “They’re not even here.”
Media coverage of the TikTok video also hyped up the potential dangers of bird poop-filled icicles. Stuchbury points to a claim that bird feces in icicles could lead to a rare lung disease called histoplasmosis. “The lung disease is not caused by licking a tiny quantity of bird poop on an icicle. It’s caused by breathing in bird feces.” It’s pet owners who need to be wary of histoplasmosis, which can be acquired by breathing in contaminated particles while cleaning birdcages.
“If birds have been visiting your roof, it’s possible some tiny amount of the water might contain a little bit of bird poop,” Stuchbury says. But rooftops can also host a variety of other contaminants you don’t wouldn’t to drink, including squirrel poop, bacteria, moss, and fungus.
This sentiment is echoed by Ryan Snoddon, meteorologist for CBC Nova Scotia, CBC New Brunswick and the Atlantic region. He says to exercise caution when it comes to chowing down on icicles formed on the roof of a house, which could contain shingle particles or tar.
“You’re not eating a bird poop popsicle, but it’s also not going to be one hundred percent clean water,” he says. “The way I would think of it is, would you drink water that came off your roof, down your eavestrough, and into a rain barrel without first boiling or filtering it? Probably not.”
Still determined to chomp down on an icicle? It’s better to stick to what could be considered the organic, free-range version of icicles. Avoid the icicles on the side of homes and cars, and look for ones hanging off trees. “I’d be much more comfortable with crunching an icicle that formed on the branch of a tree in my yard,” says Snoddon.