Intelligent crows trained to keep streets clean by picking up cigarette butts

SODERTALJE, NEAR STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN-NEWS AND COMMENT: Crows are being trained to pick up cigarette butts. The birds receive a food reward for every butt that they collect and deposit into a receptacle. My research indicates that this street cleaning method is being employed in other countries and other cities. The founder of Corvid Cleaning, Christian Gunther-Hanssen, said that only the most intelligent birds were “taking part on a voluntary basis”. Apparently more than a million cigarette butts are thrown onto Sweden’s streets each year according to the Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation.

Crows trained to pick up litter butts in Sweden and other countries

Crows trained to pick up litter butts in Sweden and other countries. Screenshot.

In the second video on this page, you see the crows depositing the cigarette butt into a customised receptacle which then rewards them with a food treat. In the first video you see this happening manually. Cigarette butts in Sweden represent 62% of all litter. The city in question spends 20 million Swedish kroner (about £1.6 million) on street cleaning annually.

Gunther-Hanssen believes that his method might save at least 75% of costs incurred in picking up cigarette butts in the city.

A pilot study is being rolled out across the city before going for the live. There appears to be some concerns about how the operation may affect the health of the birds bearing in mind the hazardous nature of cigarette butts. Strange then that people smoke them ?! Cigarettes apparently contain about 4,000 toxic substances.

They are New Caledonian crows. They are members of the corvid family of birds. It is believed that they have the reasoning power of a seven-year-old human. Research indicates that they are the smartest birds for this particular task.

Gunther-Hanssen said:

“They are easier to teach and there is also a higher chance of them learning from each other. At the same time, there’s a lower risk of them mistakenly eating any rubbish. The estimation for the cost of picking up cigarette butts today is around 80 öre [Swedish change] or more per cigarette butt, some say two kronor. If the crows pick up cigarette butts, this would maybe be 20 öre per cigarette butt. The saving for the municipality depends on how many cigarette butts the crows pick up.”

The success of the operation depends upon financing. If it’s works out well, they may extend this kind of process to other environments. It is ironic that people can teach crows to pick up cigarette butts but people can’t teach other people to stop throwing cigarette butts onto the ground.

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