Animals

Crows Are Being Trained To Clean Up All Those Cigarette Butts

Could an idea this wacky really work?

Many people think of crows as eerie, ominous animals. But these blackbirds are actually quite intelligent—so intelligent that humans are using them to help keep their cities clean. Crowded Cities, a Netherlands-based start-up, has developed a smart new device that trains crows to pick up trash—specifically, cigarette butts.

It’s not uncommon to see cigarette butts littered across the ground. And since they’re so small and so abundant, they tend to be difficult to get rid of. This is where the crows come in. When Crowded Cities co-founders Ruben van der Vleuten and Bob Spikman discovered that the birds have an intelligence level similar to monkeys and apes (crazy, right?), the duo got to thinking they could use crows’ smarts for the greater good. They then created the Crowbar, a high-tech trash can that rewards the crows with a piece of food every time they dispose of a cigarette butt.

Crowded Cities

This invention is important, as cigarette butts are the most littered item on earth. With their project, the Dutch designers also hope to raise awareness about cigarette butt littering, with the hope that humans begin to do their part to keep things clean as well. The duo is also doing research to ensure that the cigarette butts aren’t posing a health risk to the crows. If they do discover that the Crowbar is harmful, they’ll opt for an alternative solution.

Currently, van der Vleuten and Spikman are fine-tuning the prototype for Crowbar and, once that’s completed, they’ll begin training the birds. While many wildlife experts have expressed skepticism that this can work, the co-founders of Crowded City insist that crows can not only solve puzzles and make complex tools, but they can also teach each other skills, which means there’s potential for the crows’ help to spread quite rapidly once they learn they can receive a reward.

Although it’s especially important that humans do their part in keeping our environment clean, it would be great to see a unique solution to this problem play out.

[h/t: Organic Life]