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Pigeons are fighting air pollution in the skies above London (sort of)

Pigeons. Dirty little sods, aren’t they? Here are just some of the things pigeons sometimes carry: salmonella, tuberculosis and tiny air quality measuring kits. I mean they’re basically just flying rats.

All this – the pollution monitors, I mean, not the diseases – is the work of a company called Plume Labs, which does a variety of wacky things to monitor urban air quality in cities around the world. They’ve released 10 pigeons into the air above London, where they’ll gather a lot of data, before heading home again; they’ll do the same again tomorrow.

These are specially trained pigeons, you understand; none of your rubbish. There’s also an interactive map which promises to show you the pigeons’ flight paths. If we’re honest it’s pretty confusing (why, if there are 10 pigeons, does it only show one flight path?). But it does seem to tell us that today’s pollution is “moderate” and that the pigeons have today been exploring east London.

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(We’ve tweeted @pigeonair in hope of an explanation, but nothing yet.)

Oh, and in case you were wondering

The nice HR team at Plume Labs takes very good care of us. Our backpacks are as light as a feather, and a vet’s on hand to double check we’re safe and sound. So don’t worry, we love flying, we’re pigeons after all.

The heading on that section of Plume’s “Pigeon Air Patrol” website is “Pigeon TLC”. You know, despite the cheery, first person tone, we are not entirely convinced the pigeons even wrote that. I mean, who calls their HR team “nice”?


The whole idea of making pigeons work for their living, incidentally, came from marketing agency Digitas LBi, which submitted it in the “Solve a Problem” category of  Twitter’s #PoweredbyTweets competition. Yes, it’s a marketing ploy – not for pigeons, but for the wearable air pollution measuring device that Plume Labs is planning to beta test shortly.

But on some measures London has worse air pollution than Beijing, and that needs sorting, so just this once we’re going to let them off.

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