Cigarettes' One Benefit: Healthier Bird Nests

When your mother told you that "smoking is for the birds," she had no idea how right she was. According to new research, birds such as sparrows and finches are increasingly incorporating discarded cigarette butts into their nests. Why? Apparently the butts help insulate the nest, and the nicotine and other chemicals act as an insecticide against mites and other parasitic organisms. Birds have long built their nests with poisonous plants to keep them mite-free, but in major cities cigarette butts tend to be more available. Scientists in Mexico City have observed birds with as many as 48 butts woven into their nests, while the average was about 10 butts.

Dr. Constantino Macias Garcia, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and his team wrote in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters: "We provide evidence that urban birds incorporate cellulose from smoked cigarette butts into the nest and that this behaviour entails a reduction in the number of nest-dwelling ectoparasites. ...  Birds could distinguish smoked and non-smoked butts from their scent, just as some birds that use the chemical compounds of plants as defense against parasites appear to rely on olfaction to collect those with effective chemicals."

To my knowledge, no biologist has observed cigarettes in the nests of quail, pheasants, ducks or grouse. But, who knows, maybe one day we'll learn that cigarette butts are good for them too, and I'll thank you for pitching your Marlboros into my favorite upland covert. But don't count on it.

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