Almost-poisoning pigeons in the park

As the heavens inevitably cover every mountain peak with snow, so do pigeons unstoppably deposit a protective white layer atop every outdoor statue – or so people believed. Yukio Hirose shocked and delighted the world by disproving one of these two supposedly eternal truths. He used arsenic to do it.

Chemistry provides a way to communicate certain messages to birds. Yukio Hirose figured this out after he noticed that something, some mysterious who-knows-what, had consistently attracted the attention of one particular group of pigeons.

In the Kenroku garden in the city of Kanazawa, Japan, stands a statue of the legendary hero Yamato Takeru no Mikoto. There are many things to admire about the statue, but, as a scientist, Professor Hirose was fascinated by how pristine the figure is. Birds rarely visit it, and seldom bestow the kind of personal gifts they often lavish on statuary….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

BONUS: Professor Hirose was awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry for this research.

BONUS: Tom Lehrer’s at-least-partially-pertinent song “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”:

Improbable Research