Birds using cigarette butts and plastic bags to build their nests
Dr Jim Reynolds, Centre for Ornithology at the University of Birmingham in the UK, said avian life could help us track our litter
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Birds are now using cigarette butts, plastic bags and other litter to build their nests, reveals a new study.
Researchers from Bangor University in Wales found 176 avian species around the world are using man-made rubbish to make their homes.
Australian seabirds build with fishing nets, ospreys in North America use baler twine, South American city-birds pick up cigarette butts and common blackbirds in Europe nest with plastic bags.
A separate study last week revealed that crows and magpies have been stealing anti-bird spikes to use in their nests in Holland and Belgium.
Human offcuts can be useful, according to scientists - cigarette butts retain nicotine that repels ectoparasites that attach themselves to birds’ skin to suck blood.
Harder human made materials could structurally support nests, while plastic films may provide insulation and warm the offspring.
Despite the potential benefits, the scientists warn we must remember anthropogenic material can be harmful to birds and reduce the amount we chuck out.
They can die tangled in baler twine, and some offspring ingest human litter mistaking it for prey.
Moreover, adding colourful anthropogenic material to a nest can attract predators to the eggs and nestlings.
Dr Mark Mainwaring, School of Natural Sciences at Bangor University, Wales, said: “The special issue highlights that the nests of a wide range of taxa – from birds to mammals to fish to reptiles – allow them to adapt to human-induced pressures.
“Those pressures range from the inclusion of anthropogenic materials into their nests through to providing parents and offspring with a place to protect themselves from increasingly hot temperatures in a changing climate.”
Lead author of the study Zuzanna Jagiełło, Poznań University of Life Sciences in Poland, said we need to up efforts to track the contents of bird nests.
She said: “A wide variety of bird species included anthropogenic materials into their nests. This is worrying because it is becoming increasingly apparent that such materials can harm nestlings and even adult birds.
“More studies are needed to gain a more complete understanding of how many bird species worldwide include such materials into their nests for us to fully comprehend the extent of the problem.”
The second author of the study, Dr Jim Reynolds, Centre for Ornithology at the University of Birmingham in the UK, said avian life could help us track our litter.
Commenting on the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B study, he said: “In a rapidly urbanizing world which we share with many different animal taxa, it is not surprising that birds use our discarded materials in their nests.
“Although much needs to be understood about how plastics, for example, impact birds, it is exciting that birds, through their high mobility and breeding biology, may prove to be potent biomonitors of environmental anthropogenic material pollution.”