A hair-raising truth: Trimmings of human hair from salons are responsible for pigeons' lost toes

  • Many pigeons seen in urban settings have deformed feet of missing toes
  • Experts had proposed that infection or pollution might be responsible
  • Researchers surveyed the number of deformed pigeons across Paris
  • They found that there were more deformities in areas with many hairdressers
  • Hair can wrap around a bird's toe, cutting off circulation and amputating it 

Getting a wash, cut and blow-dry at the hair salon can cost an arm and leg — and also the toes of nearby pigeons, a new study has found.

If you take a close look at pigeons on city streets, you'll see that many have deformed feet and are missing a toe or two. 

For a long time, scientists thought that these deformities were caused by some kind of infection, or were a reaction to a chemical pollutant. 

However, French researchers are now proposing that a big culprit is human hair, which gets tangled around the toes and can even end up amputating them.

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Getting a wash, cut and blow-dry at the hair salon can cost an arm and leg — and also the toes of nearby pigeons, a new study has found. Pictured: a pigeon with a missing toe

Getting a wash, cut and blow-dry at the hair salon can cost an arm and leg — and also the toes of nearby pigeons, a new study has found. Pictured: a pigeon with a missing toe

The team — from the National Museum of Natural History and the University of Lyon — recorded the occurrence and extent of toe mutilations from pigeons eking out an existence at 46 different sites across Paris.

They found that human pollution appears to play a part in nearly all cases of missing toes.

Pigeons living in areas with higher rates of air and noise pollution tended to have fewer digits than those that lived in quieter, leafier environs.

Most strikingly, however, the team also noticed that toe mutilation 'tended to increase with the density of hairdressers'.

The researchers think that the poor birds are losing their extremities by getting them entangled in human hair — a phenomenon dubbed 'stringfeet'.

The team suggested that more green spaces might benefit this population of birds — even if many city-dwellers see them as nothing more than pests.

Between stringfeet and being maligned by most humans, pigeons may have a bit of a rum lot in life.

French researchers are proposing that a big culprit behind stringfeet is human hair, which gets tangled around the toes and can even end up amputating them

French researchers are proposing that a big culprit behind stringfeet is human hair, which gets tangled around the toes and can even end up amputating them

But for scientists, they can serve a worthy purpose.

'Measuring the impacts of urban pollution on biodiversity is important to identify potential adaptations and mitigations needed for preserving wildlife even in city centres,' the team wrote.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Biological Conservation

Trimmings of human hair from salons are responsible for pigeons' lost toes 

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