Brainy Crows Trained to Pick Up Trash at Theme Park

People could learn a thing or two about trash disposal from trained rooks at a French theme park. (Image credit: Puy du Fou)

A team of trained birds will really clean up at a French theme park, where they will collect and discard cigarette butts and other bits of trash.  

Six rooks — a type of bird in the crow family, native to Europe and parts of Scandinavia and Asia — are expected to get to work this week picking up litter at Puy du Fou, a park that features period villages and gardens, as well as historic re-enactments, performances and events, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

The avian trash collectors were raised in captivity and trained by Christophe Gaborit, a falconer and project manager with the park's Academy of Falconry, so you might say that the birds got their job through crow-nyism. [Creative Creatures: 10 Animals That Use Tools]

Gaborit was inspired to recruit the rooks (Corvus frugilegus) by something he saw 20 years ago: a group of wild ravens sifting through natural litter in a field, Puy du Fou representatives wrote in a blog post. If corvids — the family that includes crows, ravens and rooks — were already inclined to sort materials in their habitat, perhaps they could be trained to identify and discard litter left behind by humans, Gaborit explained in the post.

A box with a hidden drawer rewarded the birds for depositing cigarette butts and other bits of litter. (Image credit: Puy du Fou)

He raised and trained his first pair of trash-collecting rooks in 2000, with a little help from a special cabinet — when the birds deposited trash in the drawer, a second compartment would be opened to reward them with a tasty treat, according to the blog post. Repeating this action led the rooks to associate rubbish removal with food, though they would sometimes try to trick their trainer by dropping bits of wood in the box, Gaborit said.

While a winged cleanup crew may not be the most efficient method for keeping a large park litter-free, the sight of the busy rooks will hopefully teach visitors to be more careful about where they dispose of their trash, according to the blog.

Original article on Live Science.

Mindy Weisberger

Mindy Weisberger is a Live Science editor for the channels Animals and Planet Earth. She also reports on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology, and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.