Can Crows Be Used To Clean Litter Outside?

Since crows tend to be found in urban areas and those same areas frequently suffer from garbage problems, many people have wondered whether crows can clean litter outside. This would require some training, but multiple people have had this idea over the years. The idea comes from the fact that any wildlife expert knows that crows are highly intelligent. They can use tools, remember human faces, communicate within their groups, and solve complex problems.

They Can Recognize And Take Care Of Garbage
In recent years, some researchers have tried to train crows to recognize, and then pick up, garbage with reasonable results. Very recently, there was even a box invented that will feed crows when they deposit garbage like cigarette butts. The staff from Montecasino Bird Garden, which is in Johannesburg, South Africa, proved that crows can indeed be trained to throw out litter.

More famous research is by Joshua Klein, who created a crow vending machine. Crows learned reasonably quickly to put spare change in his vending machine and that they would get peanuts in return. He used the tried-and-true behaviorist principles of B.F. Skinner. This has inspired work in Amsterdam by Bob Spikman and Ruben van der Vleuten. They are trying to do the same thing with cigarette butts.

What About Practicality?
While it is clearly possible, using crows to clean litter outside simply is not practical. The crows will not teach the trick to other birds they come across; you would have to train them all, which is obviously labor intensive. Because of this, many experts view their ability to be more useful in terms of understanding how corvids (a group that includes crows) think, or just to impress people.

To make it possible for crows to be effectively used to clean up litter outside, they would need some sort of incentive. It also does not help that crows tend to remember grudges against humans; that knowledge is part of what led to the discovery that they recognize human faces. Of course, there is also the problem that humans would probably get frustrated with crows getting in their way as they cleaned up the garbage, particularly in busy cities where it would be most necessary.

Even so, those around the world are curious about what results the Dutch study will bring. In the meantime, people should focus on cleaning up their own litter. After all, garbage attracts nuisance wildlife and keeping areas free of trash is one of the simplest ways to prevent wild animals from invading public areas.

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