Birds put cigarettes to good use
Cigarettes are for the birds, as one has long suspected. Beth Marie Mole reports in The Scientist:
Scientists have discovered what many ex-smokers already realized: that cigarettes are for the birds. And some birds are happy to take them. According to a study published today (December 5) in Biology Letters, two songbirds species—the house finch and house sparrow—regularly line their nests with the innards of discarded cigarette butts. Some birds collected upwards of 40 butts for a single nest. And the result of their ashtray-style abode: fewer mites and lice to pester their chicks.
“It’s not a big surprise,” said Mark Hauber, who studies the evolution of avian behaviors at Hunter College in New York, and was not involved in the study. “We always knew that some birds put pungent herbs in their nests to keep insects and mites at bay, so why not use cigarettes?” They are readily available in any urban environment and tobacco provides a natural insect repellent.
For the study, undergraduates at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, led by animal behavior researcher Constantino Macías Garcia monitored 27 house sparrow nests and 28 house finch nests on the university’s campus over several months. “The students had seen the birds dismembering discarded butts, leaving behind the paper,” Garcia says. “The birds found them out of rubbish bins and, I’m sorry to say, also on walkways around campus.”
The cottony guts of cigarette butts may provide the birds downy insulation for their nests, the researchers hypothesized, and the plethora of chemicals and traces of tobacco that the filters contain might also be useful for repelling parasites, which can stymie chick development and health. To test whether cigarettes repel insects, . . .