SYDNEY / CONSTANCE (DPA) – Trash cans have become a point of contention between cockatoos and Sydney residents. Sulfur-headed cockatoos have developed a sophisticated technology for opening plastic trash can lids with their beaks and feet, a research team led by Barbara Clamp of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Konstanz reports in the journal Current Biology. Since they distribute trash in residential areas while searching in bins, residents always try to keep birds away with new tricks.
“Once the parrot opens a litter box, other cockatoos will come in and try to get something tasty to eat,” Klomp explains. “They like bread a lot.” It is not known which resourceful birds came up with the idea first – but it is clear that the behavior quickly found imitators: in 2018, according to a population survey, the stunt was observed in only three regions. At the end of 2019, birds were already being hunted from trash cans in this way in 44 regions.
The locals are taking drastic measures
However, the locals reacted and devised new ways to prevent the lids from opening. In one survey, 61 percent of about 170 participants said they resorted to more and more drastic measures over time — because the birds, in turn, come up with new ideas every time. Soon, the rubber snakes on the chests no longer frightened the cockatoos, and even heavy objects like stones on the covers did not prevent the birds from achieving their goal for a long time.
“The stones seem to be working for a while, but the cockatoos are getting very smart,” a local resident was quoted as saying. The birds raised the snags at the edge of the cap with their heads or beaks, thus freeing themselves again.
“Not only do cockatoos learn socially how to open trash cans, but locals also learn socially how to protect their trash cans from cockatoos,” Clamb explains. “Residents are creating new protection methods themselves, but a lot of them are learning from their neighbors or the people on their streets, so they are getting inspiration from someone else.”
About two-thirds of those surveyed look to their neighbors for guidance. It appears to be similar in the case of the cockatoo, where barrier-breaking techniques have also spread among the local population.
Mankind’s latest – and still effective – idea: shoes or plastic bottles are placed in the hinges so that the lids can no longer be opened. To be on the safe side, some residents have also attached heavy objects, such as filled water bottles, to the lids with cable ties. This seems to work – at least for now.
Klomp’s group explains that there are always similar races between land animals and humans. An example is the elephants in Africa, which destroy fields and always overcome new protection measures, another macaque in Asia, stealing things from people and returning them only to get food.
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