Pigeons with tiny backpacks test the air in London

Kate Yoder reports for Grist on the “Pigeon Air Patrol”:

Shielding your picnic lunch from London’s plentiful pigeon population is almost as much of a tourist tradition as taking a selfie with Big Ben. But one group of pigeons have a job quite different than stealing your sandwich: measuring the city’s air pollution.

Equipped with air quality sensors and GPS trackers in small, feather-light backpacks, six racing pigeons from the Pigeon Air Control project are flying around London to get on-the-ground (or in-the-air?) readings of nitrogen dioxide and other toxic compounds.

Today, the birds started tweeting. And no, that’s not the chirps of a long-awaited springtime you hear — it’s the pigeons’ Twitter account, which promises to provide air quality readings for Londoners who tweet at the handle @PigeonAir.

Pigeons fighting pollution: Simply tweet your London area to @PigeonAir & we’ll tell you how toxic it is! #PigeonAirhttps://t.co/S3CKPx35Ry

Pigeon Air Patrol (@PigeonAir) March 14, 2016

The three-day campaign from Pigeon Air Control, from March 14 to 16, is mainly a publicity stunt to draw attention to dirty air in London (aka “The Old Smoke”). In 2015, The Guardian reported that 9,500 Londoners die each year from long-term exposure to their city’s noxious cloud.

Source: Kate Yoder, “Pigeons with tiny backpacks test the air in London,” Grist 14 March 2016