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Birds are lining their nests with cigarette butts to repel pests and keep themselves warm, according to research
Wild birds have long protected their nests from mite invasion by importing chemical-emitting plants.
The scientists said it was possible the anti-mite nest protection was a happy coincidence. Birds might only be lining their nests with discarded butts because they provide good insulation.
Further studies could reveal if this is the case by offering the birds a choice of smoked and non-smoked butts. Either would do for insulation, but only filters from smoked cigarettes can effectively repel mites.
The team put traps in the nests of 27 house sparrows and 28 house finches on their university campus. The traps were outfitted with fibres and filters from smoked or unsmoked cigarettes and emanated heat to attract parasites.
"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.
"This novel behaviour observed in urban birds fulfils one of the three conditions necessary to be regarded as self-medication: it is detrimental to parasites."
During the early beginnings of life, nature developed the amygdalae as a defense response mechanism for animals. Recognizing danger patterns, the organs enabled animals to fight, freeze, or escape. As essential as the vertebrae, these organs protected fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals from harm.
The amygdala triggers your emotions faster than your conscious awareness. The unique “speed dial circuits” of the two almond sized nuclei within your brain are the first to react to emotionally significant events. These organs protect you from harm by interpreting subconscious hints of danger to trigger lightning fast responses.
The present results suggest that the olfactory bulb projections in birds are generally similar to those in reptiles, with the exception that secondary olfactory bulb projections to the amygdala may be much reduced in birds compared to those in reptiles. The functional significance of the reduction in olfactory input to the amygdala is presently uncertain.
It would be my guess that birds partake in using cigarette butts because their brain tells them that the butts either contain or resemble the very chemical compounds of certain plants found in nature that they have used before.