Visit nearly any urban area around the world and you’ll find they all have something in common: crows. Crows are a species that have adapted well to human civilization. Today, you’ll find the majority of crow populations living within 20 miles of a human settlement.
Many consider crows to be a nuisance, as they can be aggressive when nesting and, when a large number of them get together, they can be pretty noisy. But in France, crows are being put to work for the greater good.
Six crows who reside near the Puy du Fou theme park in France have been trained to pick up trash, according to Nicolas de Villiers, the park’s director.
“The goal is not just to clear up, because the visitors are generally careful to keep things clean,” according to Villiers. “But also to demonstrate that nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment.”
Numerous attempts have been made to teach crows to perform various tasks that benefit us. A group of Dutch designers attempted to train crows to pick up cigrarette butts, but the birds were difficult to train. Experts are unsure of the effectiveness of teaching wild crows to pick up litter, though more success may be had in teaching captive-raised crows.
Part of what determines the success of programs like this one is what you’re using to treat the crows. Many have tried using peanuts, as they’re inexpensive and crows will eat them. But like people, crows don’t really enjoy working for peanuts. More enticing treats, like dead mice, can compel them to action. Crows also very much enjoy a good cheese.
The park’s expert falconer, Christophe Gaborit, recognizes some of the challenges with keeping crows captive.
Each morning, Gaborit brings his crows and a set of wooden boxes to the entrance of the park where the crows deposit trash into a box and a treat is then dispensed. Although some have expressed concern that the birds are being forced to work to undo human mistakes, Gaborit insists that the birds consider it to be more of a game.
“It is a challenge for birds to be captive for a long time,” he said. “They get in their moods. They can get self-destructive and pull out their feathers. They will pout in the corner.” The puzzle is a way to keep the crows entertained, busy, and ultimately, happy.
“We don’t want to make them machines,” de Villiers says of the birds. The crows aren’t overworked. They take 3 days off each week to fly around and do their own thing.
“They don’t play the game if they work too much.”