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Researchers smoke out link between birds and butts

Monday, April 15, 2013 - 02:17

April 15 - Researchers in Mexico are investigating the connection between cigarettes and at least two bird species that use butts to line their nests. In a paper published last year the researchers suggested that chemicals in the cigarette butts help deter parasites but they hope that further study will establish a definitive link. Elly Park has more.

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According to researchers at National Autonomous University of Mexico, city birds have developed a cigarette habit.. They are notoriously harmful to humans, but the team has discovered that urban bird populations are using cigarette butts to line their nests..and that those nests attract significantly fewer parasites than other nests. Montserrat Suarez Rodriguez is a biologist who co-authored the study. She is still researching the phenomenon because it's still unclear as to whether the birds know about the positive effects of cigarette butts and if they seek them out intentionally. (SOUNDBITE)(Spanish) MONTSERRAT SUAREZ RODRIGUEZ, BIOLOGIST AND UNAM RESEARCHER, SAYING: " I want to make clear that I still don't know if they use them because they know they have an effect, or because the material works for them and is available in the city. Here on campus, it is common to find cigarette butts on the ground. The material is very available to birds, and the material is good for building nests." In nature, birds are known to use plants that repel parasites in their nests. But the team found that city birds seem to use discarded cigarettes in much the same way, possibly because the butts contain cellulose acetate, a chemical known to repel parasites. To test the theory, the researchers installed heat traps in nests as well as cellulose fibers and adhesive tape to trap parasites. (SOUNDBITE)(Spanish) MONTSERRAT SUAREZ RODRIGUEZ, BIOLOGIST AND UNAM RESEARCHER, SAYING: "I wanted to see whether this had an effect on the number of ectoparasites in the nests. Ectoparasites are dangerous to birds, because they feed on the bird's blood and feathers at an important stage of their lives as they are growing and developing to become independent." Results show that nests built using smoked cigarettes contained significantly fewer parasites. But Rodriguez and her team caution that further tests will be necessary to properly determine whether birds' new found cigarette habit is consciously driven, and, if so, why.

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Researchers smoke out link between birds and butts

Monday, April 15, 2013 - 02:17