Six clever crows specially trained to pick up cigarette butts and rubbish will be put to work from next week at a French theme park.
The birds will be encouraged to spruce up the historical park through the use of a small box that delivers a pinch of bird food each time the bird deposits a cigarette end or small piece of rubbish at the Puy du Fou park, in the western Vendee region.
Nicolas de Villiers, president of the park explained: “The goal is not just to clear up, because the visitors are generally careful to keep things clean” but also to show that “nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment.”
Rooks, a member of the crow family of birds that also includes the carrion crow, jackdaw and raven, are considered to be “particularly intelligent” and “like to communicate with humans and establish a relationship through play”, Monsieur Villiers said.
Scientists say crows are incredibly intelligent and are capable of using tools, solving complex problems, remembering human faces, communicating within groups, and much more.
Naturist and TV presenter Chris Packham has explored the minds of the cleverest animals on the planet for his TV series Inside the Animal Mind.
In one episode he joins Dr Alex Taylor who set a highly complex eight part test for a crow called Brann to complete.
On observing the crow’s success Chris said crows were “remarkable” and said he had “never seen anything like it.”
He added: “I have observed a lot of bird behaviour and I can hardly believe it.”
Observations like those seen by the BBC Springwatch presenter have led to several experiments to see if crows could be trained to do actual work, such as picking up litter, and now it seems they can.
New Caledonian crows have been observed in the wild using sticks with their beaks to extract insects from logs like little spades.
While young birds in the wild normally learn this technique from elders, a laboratory crow named “Betty” improvised a hooked tool from a wire with no prior experience or observation of parent crows.
And urban crows in Japan and the United States have innovated a technique to crack hard-shelled nuts by dropping them onto busy crossroads and letting them be run over and cracked by cars.
They then retrieve the cracked nuts when the cars are stopped at the red light.
But the crow family is not the only one that might have decent litter-picking skills – Australian magpies have been found to understand what other birds are saying to each other.
Research published earlier this year in the journal Animal Behaviour says the wily magpie has learned the meanings of different calls by the noisy miner and essentially eavesdrops to find out which predators are near.
Macaws have been shown to utilise ropes to fetch items that would normally be difficult to reach some herons use bait to catch fish.