Pigeons are the city's most useless rodents, both because they lack the star power of rats and also because they have a habit of crapping on your shirt during a Tinder date. But now, a new study says they have some function other than decorating windshields—apparently pigeons can sniff out lead in contaminated water. Of course, they can also contaminate water, according to a television show I watched once, so there's no reason not to hate them, in my Very Scientific Opinion.

The Times reports that the study, published yesterday in Chemosphere, found that the lead levels in feral pigeons corresponded with the lead levels in human children in their respective neighborhoods, which suggests that testing pigeons early on could help officials figure out whether or not certain water sources were contaminated.

In fact, the study suggests pigeons might be helpful when it comes to detecting other kinds of contamination, like pesticides. Since pigeons breathe the same air as us, drink the same water, and eat pretty much the same foods we do, their blood composition actually mimics ours quite closely. And since they don't get as sick as we do from contaminants, scientists can use them as bioindicators without harming them, which I guess is good, don't yell at me, PETA.

As an aside, it's noteworthy that the study does not shy away from describing pigeons as "pests" and "rats with wings," but now they are good rats with wings, like Rizzo or Patton Oswalt in Ratatouille.

It's unclear, according to the Times, if pigeons really will be helpful in the long run—a spokesperson from the health department said it "seemed a stretch to equate feral pigeons with the proverbial canary in a coal mine," and that the city was already able to test for lead poisoning.

Still, scientists who worked on the study say they are very excited about pigeons' new utility, which, no matter what, will be the third most interesting thing about pigeons, the first being their propensity for face recognition, while the second is that they've already nibbled on your halal cart lunch.

Update 7/20: Paul Sweet, Collections Manager at the American Museum of Natural History, provided us with the following statement about the pigeon study:

Pigeons are a great study organism for tracking environmental contaminants because they tend to be sedentary and accumulate toxins from a restricted area. Previous studies of environmental contamination over time have been carried out using historic specimens from scientific collections including those at the AMNH. Some have used specimens to discover that DDT was causing eggshell thinning in raptors, and other studies of heron specimens from the Florida Everglades have shown the accumulation of Mercury in this ecosystem over time.