Nation & World

At this theme park, birds of a feather flock together - and pick up the trash

In this Dec. 16, 2015 photo, a crow just had its brain scanned at the University of Washington’s medical center in Seattle. The crow was part of research inspecting the bird’s brain activity at the sight of food. Over the years, University of Washington research has shown crows can recognize individual faces, and pass down through generations whether that face is friend or foe. In France, the historical theme park Puy du Fou has trained six crows to pick up litter tossed aside by visitors.
In this Dec. 16, 2015 photo, a crow just had its brain scanned at the University of Washington’s medical center in Seattle. The crow was part of research inspecting the bird’s brain activity at the sight of food. Over the years, University of Washington research has shown crows can recognize individual faces, and pass down through generations whether that face is friend or foe. In France, the historical theme park Puy du Fou has trained six crows to pick up litter tossed aside by visitors. Associated Press

Some people might feel like they work for peanuts. But the new “maintenance workers” taking flight at a French theme park this week really do work for treats.

The Puy du Fou historical theme park in western France has trained six crows to pick up cigarette butts and other small pieces of trash that visitors leave behind, according to Agence France-Presse.

The rooks are “particularly intelligent” members of the crow family who can “communicate with humans and establish a relationship through play,” the park’s president, Nicolas de Villiers, told AFP.

Visitors will surely get to know the birds’ names, even without name tags - Baco, Bamboo, Bill, Black, Boubou and Bricole, according to NPR.

“The park is very clean,” de Villiers told NPR. “The purpose of the crows ... is to educate the people, to open their minds, to think, ‘OK, the birds are able to do something that we are much more able to do than them, so we should do this by ourselves.’”

Translation: Put your own darn trash in the darn trash cans.

Crows are smart, writes Melissa Breyer, managing editor of TreeHugger environmental news site.

“They make and use tools, they can reason about cause and effect, they solve puzzles and can even remember people who have done them wrong,” she writes. “And now the latest talent to add to their bag of tricks? They can pick up the litter that dumb humans leave scattered about.”

De Villiers told NPR that one of the park’s falconers, Christophe Gaborit, trained the crows to pick up roses and deliver them to a “princess” as part of his falconry show. From there it was a just a few steps to training them to pick up pieces of paper or cigarette butts around the park.

For each bit of trash they place in a designated box, the crows get a piece of bird food, according to the AFP.

“It became a game for them,” de Villiers told NPR. “They pick up the papers on the floor, and they are rewarded.”

Earlier this year a British researcher designed a “vending machine” for crows to test their problem-solving skills, the BBC reported. The machine would only release a treat if the right-sized piece of paper, or token, was inserted.

Then, researcher Sarah Jelbert from the University of Cambridge, told the BBC, “we tested whether they could remember which size worked, and whether they would make it themselves.

“And we found that all the adult birds spontaneously made the right-sized piece of card for their vending machine.”

The birds at the theme park will only work four days a week and under supervision, park officials told NPR.

The falconer will watch visitors to make sure they aren’t purposefully littering just to ruffle some feathers.

While the national anthem was being played before the Seattle Mariners' opener against the Minnesota Twins, a bald eagle landed on pitcher James Paxton's shoulders.

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