DCMS blog

London Tech Week 2019: Cityflocks unlocks potential of pigeons

Dr Rick Thomas


Dr Rick Thomas

Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham

Cityflocks, a research project from the University of Birmingham, builds on a long standing partnership between humans and pigeons stretching back to ancient Egyptian times when they were first domesticated. In this case homing pigeons carry sensors to capture extremely fast temperature fluctuations in the zone above Birmingham’s buildings,  where the individual microclimates of the land below are mixed together.

It’s very difficult to measure in this region, yet by comparing in-situ data from here with that generated by our fine scale citywide models we can better understand the changing levels of heat and pollution across the city.

Ultimately, measurements like this can complement other techniques to better understand and mitigate for climate and air quality challenges for the benefit of all (including pigeons) who live there.

Usually two or three birds are flown at a time from various release points across Birmingham. To date, we have had over 60 flights and have ongoing flights. 

Overall, this project will deliver a novel, and rigorously tested, technology for probing the urban boundary layer of a major European conurbation. Success of the project will be a necessary step towards deployment of chemical sensors, and lead to a generation of unprecedented datasets of the urban atmosphere for both research and city-planning purposes.

Rick Thomas, Research Fellow at School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham

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