Crows Pick Up Trash in a French Park

Crows Pick Up Trash in a French Park
August 27, 2018 Christina Mullin

In France, the wily crow is getting a makeover. Puy du Fou, a historical theme park in the Loire region about four hours from Paris, has trained six crows to pick up cigarette butts and bits of trash and dump them in a box.

The theme park’s owners would rather have humans properly dispose of their own candy wrappers and cigarettes. The crows are part of an educational campaign to prompt the ecologically minded to take their rubbish with them.

“We want to educate people not to throw their garbage on the ground,” said Nicolas de Villiers, the president of Puy du Fou. That is especially true of smokers who casually flick lit cigarettes and extinguish them with the tips of their shoes. As Mr. de Villiers put it, if crows can be schooled to pick up trash, why can’t humans?

Christophe Gaborit, who manages the theme park’s Academy of Falconry, trained the six rooks, which are members of the crow family and were raised at Puy du Fou, the second-largest theme park in France.

Ornithologists and bird experts are skeptical that wild birds can be trained to pick up after humans. Birds raised in captivity, though, have a better chance.

“The motivation isn’t there for a wild crow to do it on its own,” said Kevin McGowan, a crow researcher who teaches at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. “You’ve got to give them more than peanuts.”

That is where Mr. Gaborit, an expert falconer, comes in. Each morning, he brings his crows and a set of wooden boxes to the park’s entrance so visitors can see the feathered creatures in action, Mr. de Villiers said. The crow’s task is simple. Each box has two compartments, and when a crow deposits a piece of paper or trash in a slot, a drawer is opened to reveal a treat — bird food, mostly.

So far, the crows seem to have a cushy gig. They are on display four days a week, and otherwise fly around or do whatever birds do when they are not picking up cigarette butts with their beaks. “We don’t want to make them machines,” Mr. de Villiers said. “They don’t play the game if they work too much.”

Excerpted from a piece by Laura M. Holson in the New York Times