Dogs are often the animals that come to mind when you think about which creatures are easiest to train, but anyone who’s ever spent a lot of time around a crow, raven, or magpie knows that corvids are also particularly brilliant birds. These feathered friends are known to be quick learners and often befriend humans when they realize that we may be sources of food, shelter, or other resources.
One man has now teamed up with his neighboring magpies to provide them what they want (food) in exchange for what he wants (discarded bottle caps). Hans Forsberg works with robotics and artificial intelligence, and he recently put his smarts to work in creating a device that’s trained local magpies to pick up litter.
Though the machine looks simple, it really involves a lot of mechanical and software know-how, which Hans certainly possesses. According to his article on Hackster (where you can learn more about the specific details of how the machine works), he created all the parts with a 3-D printer, then used his expertise in mechanical design, software, and electronics to make it function as intended.
Then, of course, he had to train the magpies. This in itself was a years-long process that involved getting the birds comfortable with the feeder (and him!) and showing them that if they came by, they would be fed regularly. The chicks were easier to train, as they weren’t as suspicious of the feeder as the adults and weren’t so bothered if the design changed.
Thankfully, the machine now functions as intended, and the magpies know that if they “feed” it a bottle cap, they will also be fed. Hans hopes to expand his work to train the magpies to pick up other litter, like cigarette butts.
Check out the birds at work below: