A Crow to Pluck: Swedish Town Trains Birds to Clear Streets of Cigarette Butts - Video
16:53 GMT 01.02.2022 (Updated: 13:32 GMT 06.08.2022)
Crows are considered to be some of the most intelligent birds around and some will be trained to pick up litter in exchange for food, potentially saving the Nordic country millions in street-cleaning efforts.
A start-up in Sweden has begun recruiting crows in a pilot project to assist in cleaning up the streets of the city of Södertälje in Greater Stockholm.
Crows are among the most intelligent animals in Sweden and can learn to pick things up in exchange for food, something that the local company Corvid Cleaning aims to benefit from. In particular, the birds will be taught to pick up cigarette ends, which have described as the most common kind of litter in Swedish streets.
“By teaching the crows to exchange cigarette ends for food, we can help clean our streets and squares. The birds put the butts in a vending machine which then feeds them. It will simply be a barter”, the founder of Corvid Cleaning, Christian Günther-Hanssen, said in a statement.
The bespoke vending machine is made of plywood and has a container for food that is connected to an electric motor that feeds nuts when cigarette butts fall in.
“I train birds with small sticks that look like cigarette ends. The nuts must be served as close to the outlet as possible so that no other bird takes the reward. The next step is to get the crows to do it with real cigarette ends”, Christian Günther-Hanssen explained to the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
By his own admission, he got the idea as a psychology student in the city of Lund when he learned the theory of conditioning, when humans and animals repeat certain behaviours once they get persistent consequences.
The ambition behind the crow-assisted project is to work out a permanent solution that can potentially be applied in the rest of the country. To confirm that the street cleaner job has no consequences for the birds, the start-up plans to measure nicotine levels once in a while.
According to Dagens Nyheter, some one billion cigarette butts are dropped on Sweden’s streets each year. The 70,000-strong city of Södertälje alone spends up to SEK 20 million (close to $2.2 million) on street-cleaning operations each year.
“Every year, Sweden's municipalities spend huge sums on removing debris from streets, squares, bathing areas and other public environments”, Tomas Thernström, waste strategist at Södertälje municipality, said in the press release.
The unorthodox take on cleaning efforts has raised eyebrows on social media.
“Who's running the crows' labour rights?” bewildered netizens asked.
“Can you also train the pigeons to park electric scooters, one might ask?” another joked.
Kan man få duvorna att parkera elsparkcyklar också tro?— Jacob Nilsson (@JAC0BNILSS0N) January 27, 2022