Urban sparrows find new use for cigarette butts

Dec 05, 2012
Sparrows warm themselves on a metro ventilation grille during heavy frost in Kiev in February 2012. Cigarette butts are widely reviled as an urban nuisance but birds in Mexico City see them as a boon, apparently using them to deter parasites from their nests, scientists say.

Cigarette butts are widely reviled as an urban nuisance but birds in Mexico City see them as a boon, apparently using them to deter parasites from their nests, scientists say.

Local sparrows and incorporate smoked in their nests to provide cosy cellulose lining for their chicks and nicotine to ward off mites, they believe.

A team led by Constantino Macias Garcia at the National Autonomous University monitored 57 nests and found that the tally of bugs declined as the number of smoked butts in each nest increased.

Sparrow nests had between none and 38 used butts, with an average of eight per nest, and finch nests between none and 48, with an average of 10.

The behaviour is an intriguing example of how birds adapt to an urban environment, according to the study, which appears on Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters, published by Britain's Royal Society.

In non-urban settings, some birds line their nests with aromatic plants, which are thought to have antiparasitic properties or to stimulate the nestlings' immune system.

Nicotine, a of the , has also been used in some pest repellents for crops and in controlling poultry parasites.

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User comments : 17

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roldor
3 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2012
I think, that they are probably addicted to the nicotine now.
Mike_Massen
1.4 / 5 (15) Dec 05, 2012
One wonders if they will end up stealing nicotine patches if/when they cant find enough butts ?
How can we give them advice that a mixture of tumeric powder and coffee grinds is as useful a medium ?

Do we then have to worry about hyper-active sparrows getting even more intelligent and more adaptable ?

Do politicians therefore need to worry in any significant way ?

And would that mean if politicians are given something to worry about then we can heave a huge sigh of relief ?

So many questions evolution offers, so little time to observe the interactions between similar animals :-)

*grin*
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (12) Dec 05, 2012
Teleology writ small.
obama_socks
1.3 / 5 (12) Dec 05, 2012
Adaptation to existing and changing conditions is the extended domain of most of the world's species. Necessity is the mom of all inventions, UNLESS discovered by accident and utilized as a convenience.

The birds don't UNDERSTAND their discovery, just that it works and that is all that matters.

Mites in the nest kill a lot of hatchlings and fledgelings, and since the adult birds also carry mites, the nicotine should also rid the mom and dad of theirs...thus creating a more hygienic environment. They are getting with the program.

GO SPARROWS!!

GO FINCHES!!

GO DUCKS!! LOL
PaxAeterna
5 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2012
Birds can be surprisingly intelligent. I knew an african gray parrot that could ring like a phone. It seemed to enjoy tricking people into answering the phone.
obama_socks
1 / 5 (12) Dec 05, 2012
Birds can be surprisingly intelligent. I knew an african gray parrot that could ring like a phone. It seemed to enjoy tricking people into answering the phone.
-Pax

Were you able to turn the volume up or down?
j/k :D
Doug_Huffman
1.3 / 5 (13) Dec 05, 2012
Birds can be surprisingly intelligent. I knew an african gray parrot that could ring like a phone. It seemed to enjoy tricking people into answering the phone.
That must have been a heck of a conversation. Bird brain, "Ring." Pax brain, "Hello." Bird brain, "Ring!" Pax brain, "Hello!" Bird brain, "RING." Pax brain, "HELLO!" Ring, hello, ring, hello, ring, hello, ring, hello,
Lurker2358
1.3 / 5 (13) Dec 05, 2012
The birds don't UNDERSTAND their discovery, just that it works and that is all that matters.


As I've argued in the past, the scientific community is slightly misled in that they don't accept anything they don't understand.

Humans did not have an atomic theory at all until around 400B.C. which was never confirmed until Rutherford and Bohr, and they did not have any correct, systematic knowledge of chemistry until just a few hundred years ago with Mendelev.

Yet humans have used fire, cooking, metallurgy, basic chemistry, and possibly even primitive electroplating before any of those things were understood at all. All "accidental" and/or "partial" knowledge, and most of what they thought they knew about any of it was wrong for thousands of years.

One need not understand a process to make use of it, although understanding it certainly helps a lot.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (12) Dec 05, 2012
It's also possible the birds are just using the butts because they are something that is soft, and the killing of pests is just a coincidental benefit.

It's also possible the birds are more intelligent than we give them credit, and are actually somehow "problem solving" just like Ravens and Spiders.

Could be a learned behavior. The chicks see the parents use butts in their nests, so they use butts in their own nests when they mature.

It would be interesting to see if the birds would make their nests entirely out of butts and other man-made materials if twigs and straw aren't available.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (10) Dec 05, 2012
I've argued in the past, the scientific community is slightly misled in that they don't accept anything they don't understand
Many mainstream journals even don't accept experimental works, until they're not supported with some theory. But as Feynman once said, "Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. Everything else is just a stamp collection."
Neal Asher
1 / 5 (10) Dec 06, 2012
Don't tell ASH!
obama_socks
1.3 / 5 (12) Dec 07, 2012
It's also possible the birds are just using the butts because they are something that is soft, and the killing of pests is just a coincidental benefit.


It was most likely a coincidental benefit, since the birds couldn't possibly realize that a bit of tobacco came with the cellulose.

It's also possible the birds are more intelligent than we give them credit, and are actually somehow "problem solving" just like Ravens and Spiders.


Birds display more intelligence in the wild where having to pick up new habits as survival tactics could be considered innovation. They must WORK for their existence and survival and to feed their chicks.

Could be a learned behavior. The chicks see the parents use butts in their nests, so they use butts in their own nests when they mature.


Nurture becomes second nature

obama_socks
1.3 / 5 (12) Dec 07, 2012
It would be interesting to see if the birds would make their nests entirely out of butts and other man-made materials if twigs and straw aren't available.
-Lurker

Wild birds are some of the world's best environmentalists and recyclers. Often they will take what they perceive as free good stuff that humans have thrown away as junk like pieces of cloth, plastic. old mattress stuffing. I think the filters soak up moisture but also drain and dry fast and stay soft. Perfect for lining the nest.
obama_socks
1.3 / 5 (12) Dec 08, 2012
It would be interesting to see how birds in Washington state and in Colorado would be affected if they happen to pick up enough marijuana that were tossed by users, now that marijuana smoking has been legalized in those2 states. There are probably no cellulose filters included so it's unlikely that the birds would find a use for it, but it would be a good study to see how birds in the wild might behave after lining their nest with cannabis.
Moebius
1 / 5 (9) Dec 09, 2012
Squirrels too, I saw one chewing the tobacco off a butt on the golf course once.
c0smosis
not rated yet Dec 09, 2012
Is this a logical conclusion? I have no doubt in avian intelligence or even in a "more butts, less mites" trend, but do these elements prove that they're utilizing tobacco intentionally?

The study only proves a correlation. It does not prove intention.

If the same individual birds prefer cigarette butts from season to season, that would be something. Where is the evidence that they scout out this specific material? Where is the evidence that this is more than coincidence in nest building?
Shootist
1 / 5 (10) Dec 10, 2012
North American or European sparrow?

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