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But now birds living in cities seem to have adapted similar behaviour, filling their nests with up to 48 cigarette buts to make use of the repellent properties of tobacco.
Scientists in Mexico City studied nests of house sparrows and house finches that each contained, on average, about 10 used cigarette butts. Birds who stored larger numbers of butts saw their nests significantly less infested by mites.
Nicotine is a natural defence chemical used by the tobacco plant to ward off plant-eating insects, the researchers pointed out.
"Birds could distinguish smoked and non-smoked butts from their scent, just as some birds that use the chemical compounds of plants as defence against parasites appear to rely on olfaction to collect those with effective chemicals," the scientists wrote.