The intelligence of animals still surprises us, and it’s always mind-blowing when we see an animal learning a meaningful trick.
Birds are especially intelligent; crows can recognize human faces, and magpies can open locks and apparently, can learn to recycle.
Enter Hands Forsberg who works with robotics and artificial intelligence. He had an idea one day to train a local magpie to recycle bottle caps in exchange for food.
There were a pair of magpies living in Hans’s backyard for a while now. One day he noticed how they started finagling with some complex locks, and this is when the idea came about.
He built a machine which he could train the birds to use by collecting trash around his garden in exchange for food.
It seemed like nobody had ever tried this before, so he pioneered the idea, plan and execution, and the results are amazing!
A magpie gets a treat from the dispenser every time it drops a bottle cap into the designated hole.
So how the machine works, in simple terms is that the food dispenser is connected to the hole. So whenever a bottle cap is dropped into the hole, the dispenser gives out a piece or 2 of food.
There are detectors hooked up below the table to detect when a bottle cap has been dropped, sending a message to the dispenser.
It’s all electronically connected with a camera to monitor everything.
It took him several years but he eventually managed to train the magpies to recycle bottle caps that were littered around the local area.
Now, we summed up the project in the simplest of terms, of course it is much more complicated than this. It included vibrating motors, graphic user interface, CPU’s and more.
This project has been running for quite a few years as it’s not easy to train magpies to pick up trash for food.
Hans mentions that he first had to get the birds interested in the feeder and persuade them to visit his feeder during their patrols.
Adult magpies were quite suspicious of the whole operation which meant that every time there was a slight change in the rig, it would scare them off.
Once these adults had children, this helped a lot as the youths are braver in approaching the machine.
It won’t stop with bottle caps, Hans hopes he can teach them to pick up other kinds of trash in the future.
Check out the videos of the friendly magpies cleaning up the neighborhood
At this point, one young magpie can work the system completely and has been working hard to get bottle caps he can exchange for food. His siblings on the other hand are much more mischievous and tend to steal their food.
Here is Hans explaining in more detail how the feeder works:
Amazing work by Hans, this could be a pathway for many more similar experiments.