The Loh Down On Science

Birds and Butts

Is the key to good housekeeping … hoarding cigarette butts?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Saying, you bet! At least if you’re a bird in a big city.

Bird researchers know city nests can contain spent cigarette butts. But is it a fluke? Scientists from the National University of Mexico wanted to find out. So they surveyed 60 sparrow and finch nests around Mexico City.

Turns out, the birds weren’t just being, uh, buttheads. Almost 90 percent of nests had smokes. Some had as many as 50! Talk about a buttload!

After nesting season, the team collected the nests and peeked inside. Nonsmoking areas? Infested with parasites--up to 80 in a nest. But nests with cigarillos? Few to none. Something about the butts smokes out bugs. Nicotine, for one, is a natural repellent. And those bird brains know it.

But. Butts contain dangerous levels of multiple toxins. And the effects of daily exposure remain unknown.

But don't take away those birds' smokes--they'd rather fight than switch!

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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