Dutch Startup Using Crows To Clean Cigarette Litter

It’s more than likely that we call groups of ravens an unkindness due to their unforgiving intelligence. A Swedish experiment training birds to earn food rewards had one raven hacking the project entirely. The thoughtful budgie even took the time to teach other birds the secret. Now, startup Crowded Cities is testing the brainpower of crows, using them to pick up litter.

The idea is to train the crows to drop cigarette butts in a ‘Crowbar,’ which scans the item to confirm it’s a cigarette butt, and then gives the crow a food reward to reinforce the behavior.

Considering the amount of cigarette butts that end up on sidewalks annually (about 4.5 trillion), these crows could make a difference. The butts are not only non-biodegradable, but toxic to marine life. For ultimate efficiency, the Crowbar uses a simple give-and-take mechanism.

[Everything] is done with the intention that the crow will fly away and inform others of this system, so that more crows participate in cigarette butt collecting.

Research has found that crows are as cognitive as apes, so the success of the Crowbar should be anticipated.

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Intelligent Raven Outsmarts Researchers

Never underestimate the intellectual capacity of an animal. Just like us, they do what they can to get what they want. This intelligent raven was removed from an experiment by hacking it completely and teaching other ravens the secret.

In this study, researchers from Lund University in Sweden trained ravens to use a simple machine where they dropped a rock in a tube to earn a food reward. 86 percent managed to successfully use [the rocks] to open the machine.

One raven in the experiment figured out how to work their rock/box contraption first, then began teaching the method to other ravens, and finally invented its own way of doing it. Instead of dropping a rock to release a treat, the [raven] constructed a layer of twigs in the tube, and pushed another stick down through the layer to force it open.

This bird is certainly winning at life. Researchers can understand this behavior in apes. They are, ultimately, our closest animal relatives. But these ravens are proving that other species can be just as sharp-witted.

“It’s an independent evolution of complex cognition, which is a fascinating idea, because it shows that evolution sometimes likes to rerun good solutions. In this case, it’s planning skills,”

I’ve got to hand it to these birds. Their ability to think ahead is truly evolution at its best.

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