Climate research literally riding on the back of five pigeons

climate research
Image: Rick Thomas

Those who think pigeons are nothing more than the rats of the sky will have to think again if they prove valuable in a new study as a scientific tool to combat climate change.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK have developed a tiny set of sensors that when strapped to pigeons like a backpack, collect data such as temperature, humidity, air pressure and wind.

climate
Image: Rick Thomas

The pigeons are homing pigeons owned by local enthusiasts who have volunteered their prized pets for the important work. When the birds return to their lofts for the evening, the sensors are removed and the data is downloaded.

In order to not ruffle any feathers, the package is less than three per cent of the pigeons’ body weight, which is the standard for fitting animals with scientific equipment.

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The wife of the research fellow who leads the project Rick Thomas designed and sewed the little harness for the sensors, with many revisions to ensure ultimate comfort.

climate
Image: Rick Thomas

To date, the five birds have logged a combined 41 flights and covered around 1000km.

The data gathered can help predict how air pollution travels around cities.

In order for the research project to expand to other cities, homing pigeon keepers would need to volunteer their birds, and more funding would be needed – albeit not very much considering the sensors cost $353 each.

Mr Thomas’s aim for the study is to further develop the sensors to give more detailed analysis, as well as adapt the sensor to be self-sustaining so it could be strapped onto wild birds.

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