Over in the Swedish city of Södertälje, about 30 km southwest of Stockholm, a pilot program is being explored which will enlist crows to clean up discarded cigarette butts. Butts account for over 60% of litter in Sweden, and the per-butt cleanup cost falls between 0.8 and 2 Swedish kronor each. The company behind the project, Corvid Cleaning, estimates the cost will be around 0.2 kronor. If the birds picked up all the butts, that would be a substantial savings, but in reality, the current manual cleaning will still be needed. Total savings to the city will depend on the ratio of bird-collected vs. people-collected butts. Of course, if people would throw their butts in ashcans or carry pocket ashtrays like those popular in Japan, this would be a non-starter.
Crows were selected because they are considered one of the most intelligent bird — they’re easy to teach, and they communicate with each other. All crows participating in the project are volunteers, and are paid by the butt with a morsel of food dispensed from a machine. We’re reminded of B. F. Skinner’s pigeon-guided missile projects from the 40s and 50s, although cleaning up litter for food should result in a happier outcome for all parties concerned.
This kind of project has been tried before, for example, in a French park back in 2018. And we covered a 2020 project by [Hans] who was training magpies to do similar duty. Are you aware of any of these projects that went past the pilot phase and are in operation? Let us know in the comments below.
45 thoughts on “Crows Trade Cigarettes For Food”
Stopping smoking (or even switching to vaping) would also reduce cigarette butt litter… just saying…
But seriously, good project, hope it takes off and that the crows aren’t affected by the nicotine or tar in the Butts they collect. Would love to know if any of these projects have worked long-term.
Haven’t even seen many people smoking in Sweden compared to Finland – because Sweden is snus country. Still, the portion snus “teabags” are littering but they are relatively fast degrading. And loose baking-snus is only biomass.
Swedes themselves may not smoke that much, but there’s a demographic or two in Sweden who do.
You mean the artists?
We need a artificial intelligence enhanced super crow gang
Except for Hans I haven’t seen any of these produce results. I think Hand’s approach encouraging accidental bottle cap drops flattens the learning curve for the magpies.
I think the designs like the Bird Box or Crow Box would be great for already conditioned birds but don’t really have a learning angle for them.
I’m really interested in the dispensing mechanism. I have a similar project in the works for the crows, jackdaws and magpies in Voldelpark and tried many designs that all eventually ground up peanuts and came to the same conclusion as Hans, using a vibration feeder, to avoid this.
Well I think that you only need to tead a few birds, because crows know to teach each other and teach offsprings, so maybe one could start a movement
If crows can do it, maybe humans can, some day. Who knows.
no, most of them are relatively dumb compared to the average crow.
Or maybe, the more thoughtful humans are just not as visible, since they tend to avoid the crow-d? ;)
Nah, humans are too lazy.
Evil plan: Train them to fetch unattended AirPods.
Welp. Now I guess we know what the next Apple shareholders’ meeting wild pitch ideas will be.
Cause….. earwax fetish?
The traditional evil plan for the crows is money. Also not very clean but I’ll take it over something people put in their ears.
There are videos of them fetching paper currency.
Paper currency is so 18h century… Wake me up when they start fetching NFTs!
This is all well and good until the smoking generation dies off. Then you get huge flocks of angry crows suffering nicotine withdrawal. It’ll be worse than that Hitchcock movie.
Well, if the reward is proportional to size of the butt (bigger butt == bigger reward), crows might not wait for people to finish their cigarettes before swooping in for the clean up. This could help people live healthier and cleaner lives, imagine being stuck in a real life Hitchcock movie, which won’t end until you quit smoking.
Sir Mix-a-lot’s crows.
And thanks for keeping it classy. :)
Alls well and good until flocks of crows start raiding the Swedish version of 7/11 and rob them of all the cigarettes to trade for food. Cutting out the middle-human.
Yah. Then it’s not good. It’s great!
This sounds like something only an AI would do. Crows being actually smart, will understand that the shortcut does not work.
That may take care of the cigarette butts. But who will clean up the crow poop?
People who throw cig butts :) After that they will probably remember to use a trash can.
Neither your image or the image in the article displays a Swedish crow… I think you show a raven, and the article what we call a “Råka” which is not the same as a “kråka”!
Isn’t that “sråka” though?
far more lucrative to just have them take the money and fly
Still have nicotene residue on that filter which im certain affects the birds by getting into thier System. It’s toxic and deadly just the same to us as the crowd.
At least they’re cigarette butts and not joints… could you imagine a murder of stoned crows?
As opposed to how none of that nicotine ends up in the food chain when they are just left where the thoughtless smokers throw them?
The funny part is that because they are so smart that some of them will inevitably start snatching them straight out of the hands (or mouths!) of smokers.
…and the problem is? Sweden has universal healthcare. Smoking-related lung cancer is an unnecessary drain of the government coffers.
Actually that’s not how it works. Smokers die relatively young, before they can consume much in the way of health care resources. We actually save money on people who die from lung cancer and emphysema. If the government wanted to save health care dollars, they would encourage more smoking.
That’s a myth perpetuated in a report commissioned by the tobacco industry. Smokers die relatively young, usually after having used considerable healthcare resources in a slow and agonizing death and having reduced their effectiveness in the workplace, meaning they have produced comparatively few resources before putting the strain on “the system” and croaking. Someone who lives to 80 in OK-ish health usually has spend at least 40 to 50 of those years being productive and only then starts being “a drain”.
1 cancer patient will easily drain $25k-$50k from the healthcare fund, which he’ll never pay back. Smoking substantially increases the chance of cancer.
This is a conservative estimate.
Wouldn’t that have an effect on the food web/ chain? Crows not fending for themselves as would naturally be expected and instead collecting cigarette butts for machine dispensed peanuts?
If it’s urban enough an environment for a project like this to be effective I bet those crows left a large part of their natural routine for something human oriented anyway. Probably picking stuff out of trash.
This ends with the crows learning to fabricate fake cigarette butts to defraud the system.
A colleague has a “pet” crow, at the office. He feeds it every day. Right now there is a storm so the crow is probably hiding somewhere, but normally, even in the rain, my colleague goes outside to eat lunch and the crow knows it and sits on the table next to him. My colleague gives some food to the crow. When my colleague goes to another building on the campus, the crow follows him between the buildings. It’s so incredibly cool.
An older man in our neighborhood feeds the crows cat food on his morning walk. They see him coming before I do, and perch up on top of the buildings waiting for him, swooping down when he crosses over to their side of the street.
He’s pretty low-key about it, but I used to walk my son to kindergarten every morning, and you start to notice. Which is of course exactly what the crows did… Maybe he should have thrown me peanuts?
Imagine the public health savings if you teach the crows to take the cigarettes out of people’s mouths before they even lit them.
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