Soon, scientists will be luring in California pigeons with insect larvae and corn to capture, then test the birds for lead exposure.
UC Davis assistant professor Rebecca Calisi has long believed that pigeons, who walk the same streets, breathe the same air and often eat the same food as we do, were ideal indicators for lead poisoning.
From 2010 to 2015, Calisi studied data on 825 pigeons in New York City and discovered that elevated lead levels in the birds corresponded with high lead levels for children living in the same areas. The findings are published this week in the journal Chemosphere.
Lead is a concern because it can cause irreversible neurological damage to kids who are still developing and there is no safe blood level in children.
At least four million U.S. households include children who are exposed to high levels of lead, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And unless kids have government-backed health care, testing isn't required by law.