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Pigeons to Help Study Pollution

Emily Chen, Staff Writer

Air and water pollution are growing problems that have detrimental effects to human health. They have been linked to a number of diseases and conditions, including heart disease, lung cancer, and other respiratory issues. To study pollution and its effects further, scientists have turned to an unlikely test subject: pigeons.

The urban birds may seem like an odd choice, but pigeons have been proven to provide useful information regarding human health. The main reason for this is the fact that they share an environment with us. In places where there are people, there are bound to be pigeons. Pigeons tend to not migrate or travel, so it is easy to make sure that the ones that are being studied represent the area that they are found in. This is helpful because it confirms that pigeons living in certain regions drink the same water and breathe the same air as the people who live there. The amount of pollutants that the pigeons intake should be proportional to the amount that the people intake. Therefore, by monitoring the environment’s effect on pigeons, the scientists are also monitoring its effect on people.

Pollution data is gathered from pigeons through blood tests. Tests done by Dr. Rebecca Calisi from the University of California, Davis suggested that pigeons are bioindicators of urban ecosystems. A bioindicator is a species whose health indicates the health of other organisms in the same ecosystem. In this case, those other organisms include us humans, our pets, feral animals, and wild animals found in the city. The lead levels in the blood of pigeons followed similar patterns to the lead levels in the blood of children, proving the idea that data from pigeons coincided with that of humans.

The amount of lead in the pigeons’ blood is affected by the amount of pollution in their environment. A study by scientists in Amsterdam showed that pigeons’ blood lead levels were linked to the density of traffic in the area. Another group in Brazil found that pigeons which nested in large cities had significantly higher blood lead levels than pigeons from less developed areas. In addition, the pigeons from the larger cities were found with more traces of chromium and cadmium in their feathers. Chromium and cadmium are both dangerous chemicals that contribute to water and air pollution.

Despite their low intelligence and perception as pests, pigeons are helpful subjects for studying pollution and its effect on the environment. Hopefully, information and data gathered from the birds will deepen our understanding of air and water pollution.

Photo courtesy of TERMINIX.COM

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Pigeons to Help Study Pollution