This City is Using Crows to Clean the Streets

These birds are up to the task.

Feb 15, 2022
This City is Using Crows to Clean the Streets | These birds are up to the task.

Cleaning litter like cigarette butts from streets is usually done by municipal workers. But a city in Sweden is using crows to pick up butts and they work for treats.

A startup in Södertälje, near Stockholm, is utilizing wild New Caledonian Crows (part of the corvid family) in a pilot program that has the birds picking up the butts that smokers leave on the sidewalks, according to The Guardian. When the birds carry out the task and drop the butts into a special bespoke machine, they receive a small food reward.

“They are wild birds taking part on a voluntary basis,” Christian Günther-Hanssen, the founder of Corvid Cleaning, told The Guardian.

With about 62 percent of all litter in Sweden being comprised of cigarette butts, The Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation estimated that over a billion are thrown on the streets every year.

Why Use Corvid Crows?
Corvid crows are actually quite intelligent. In fact, they are capable of problem solving and can utilize tools making them the right birds for the job.

Günther-Hanssen told The Guardian that he chose the crows because of their high intelligence. “They are easier to teach and there is also a higher chance of them learning from each other. At the same time, there’s a lower risk of them mistakenly eating any rubbish,” he said.

What’s Next?
Right now, the city is carrying out the pilot program, reported TRT World, but if successful, it could be put in widespread use in the municipality.

Thomas Thernstrom, waste strategist at the municipality, told the news service that: “It depends on whether we can find a place in Södertälje which will work with the food dispenser, and then if there are opportunities for financing.”

The crows are expected to save the city at least 75 percent of the cost of people cleaning the streets, according to Corvid Cleaning but the savings can vary depending on how much litter the crows’ pickup. The plan could get going full steam in the spring of 2022.

But this is not exactly a novel idea, crows were trained to pick up cigarette waste in the Puy du Fou theme park in the west of France. The idea was hatched from the park’s falconry display where birds picked up roses and brought them to a “princess castle” for food rewards.

But Thernstrom pointed out that while it is possible to train the birds to pick up the butts, it seems impossible to teach people not to put them in the streets in the first place. It seems that when it comes to eliminating litter, birds are winning wings down.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.