Steadfast pigeon defenders have something new to crow about: The oft-maligned birds may be scientists’ latest tool in combating air pollution and tracking climate change. Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom have developed a tiny set of sensors that can be strapped onto the backs of pigeons. Rick Thomas, the research fellow who leads the project, uses the birds to collect data on urban microclimates—the block-by-block variations in temperature, humidity, and winds that affect living conditions in major cities. “A lot of people say, ‘Well why don’t you just use a drone?’” said Thomas. But drones, of course, have caused their fair share of trouble in the UK recently. “You can’t fly drones up there. But birds—they fly everywhere.” Fortunately for the scientists, no wild goose chase needed to track down their birds. The project works with local volunteers who raise homing pigeons, a variety of the common pigeon that was selectively bred for its ability to find its way home. When the birds return to their lofts, the sensors are retrieved and the data downloaded. Each bird’s backpack collects temperature, humidity, and ambient light information, as well as GPS location and air pressure. When […]

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