Trained Birds are Solving Sweden’s Littering Problem

Crows are highly intelligent birds with keen instincts. They possess the ability to work, share information, and even mourn their deceased.

According to The Guardian, crows have reasoning abilities comparable to that of a seven-year-old human. Furthermore, a study published in “The Journal of Neuroscience” indicates that crows comprehend the notion of zero. Christian Günther-Hanssen from Sweden has now developed a method known as “Corvid Cleaning” that trains crows to collect cigarette butts and other litter, as reported by My Modern Met.

Litter collection is a significant municipal cost in Sweden and it is a tedious task. Every year, the Swedish city of Södertälje spends 20 million Swedish kronor (about $2.2 million) on street cleaning. Cigarette butts account for at least 62% of this trash. Christian Gunther-Hanssen told the Swedish news agency TT that crows were picked for the cleaning task specifically because of their brilliance, per Euro News.

Günther-Hanssen designed a mechanism that compensates local wild New Caledonian crows for each butt they take from the streets and deposit in a specific garbage can. Crows apparently understand the reward system and can even learn cleaning from other members of their species.

The feathered volunteers may possibly save up to 75% of their cigarette waste expenditures. A trial is ongoing to evaluate the efficacy of “Corvid Cleaning’s” innovative concept. It is critical to determine if the crows ingest the cigarette butts accidentally (or on purpose) since this would be harmful to their health. Per, Gunther-Hanssen, while talking to the Swedish news agency TT, assured that “there’s lower risk of them (the crows) mistakenly eating any rubbish.” 

Tomas Thernström, a waste strategist for the municipality of Södertälje, said, “It would be interesting to see if this could work in other environments as well. Also from the perspective that we can teach crows to pick up cigarette butts but we can’t teach people not to throw them on the ground. That’s an interesting thought.”  Picking up each butt is anticipated to cost roughly 12 cents; he claims that utilizing the crows instead will decrease this to only 3 cents.

It’s not the first time birds have aided with the disposal of rubbish. The Puy du Fou theme park in western France taught crows to clean up cigarette butts and other tiny items of rubbish in exchange for food in 2018. The concept was inspired by the park’s falconry demonstration, in which the birds picked up flowers and delivered them to a princess in a castle. At the time, the park’s director, Nicolas de Villiers, told AFP that it was also about demonstrating “that nature can teach us to take care of the environment”, per BBC.

The “Corvid Cleaning” staff is a novel response to the age-old problem of urban garbage. We should learn a lesson about caring about the environment from these feathered volunteers. 

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