Cockatoos that open chests enter an “arms race” with humans

A sulfur-top cockatoo hopping around in a clump on the lid of a box. Credit: Barbara Clamp

Scientists say the feline, sulfur-covered Australian cockatoo appears to have entered an “innovative arms race” with humans, with the two species competing for trash in roadside bins.

White birds, which can grow almost in length Human arm, initially surprised researchers by devising an ingenious technique for awarding open prizes to home box lids in Sydney and other regions.

Now, a new study says they have gone a step further by thwarting the escalating defenses of weary humans.

Bird and human behavior may reveal a hitherto unexplored interspecific innovation arms raceThis is stated in a study published Monday in the journal Current Biology.

The picturesque town of Stanwell Park near Sydney is nestled between a forest and a surfing beach bordered by cliffs, and is on the front line of the Battle of the Boxes.

“If we don’t close the bin after we get rid of the trash, they’ll be there,” said Anna Kollek, 21, manager of the town’s Loaf Café.

“Cockatoos are everywhere. Like trash all over the front area.”

Her family tried to scare cockatoos away with owl statues, to no avail. Then they tried to put bricks on the lids of the box, but the cockatoos learned to remove them. Finally, they drilled a lock into the box.

Matt Hodo, the cafe’s 42-year-old chef, said.

The sulfur-top parrot successfully pushed the bricks to open the lid of my home litter box. credit: Barbara Clamp/current biology

flip cover

Nearby, 40-year-old Sky Jones said he resorted to an elastic rope to hold the lid of his house trunk after the birds worked to remove a brick and then a larger rock.

“I have a feeling I’m going to go for a real lock,” he said. “It is only a matter of time.”

Frequent observations show that a single parrot can open the box by lifting the lid with its beak while standing near the front edge.

Then, with the box lid still in its beak, it moves backward toward the hinge, pushing the lid up until it opens.

In a previous study, scientists found that knowledge of this technique spread with the emergence of other birds, creating local “traditions.”

Their new research shows that humans, frustrated by the spread of their litter across the street, have learned to adapt. But then the parrots did.

“When we first started looking at this behavior, we were really surprised that cockatoos had already learned how to open boxes,” said study lead author Barbara Klamp, a behavioral scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

As humans responded, she said, “I was really amazed at how many different methods people have invented.”

As cockatoos have learned to defeat some of the means to protect humans, the two species appeared to be engaged in “gradual progression and iteration,” said a postdoctoral research fellow.

“That was the most interesting part for me.”

In a tally of 3,283 chests, the latest study found that some cockatoos can defeat low-level protections like rubber snakes, which can be ignored, or bricks, which can be pushed away.

So far, though, the cockatoo hasn’t been able to overcome stronger methods such as a weight already attached to the lid or an object stuck in the hinge to prevent the box from opening completely.

One resident told the researchers, “Bricks seem to have been working for a while, but the fools are getting very smart.” online survey which attracted more than 1000 participants.

“sky rats”

Who wins the arms race?

“I think it’s going to be humans eventually,” Clamp said.

“But we need to know how it evolves,” she added, explaining that it was easy to underestimate the work humans do in protecting their boxes each week, as some people were already relaxing when cockatoo activity was low.

It is unlikely that Ben’s conflict between species will lead to a new breed even smarter parrotHowever.

“They have a certain ability to solve problems, and we know they are very curious and love to explore,” Clamp said. “But I don’t think protecting the boxes by itself will make cockatoos smarter.”

Despite the discomfort, many Stanwell Park residents say they have a soft spot for birds.

“We call them sky rats because they just love food,” said Kathryn Erskine, 48, owner of Uluwatu Blue Café in the town.

“It’s really pretty and loud – but I love it.”

In Australia, humans and parrots are competing in an arms race to get to the trash

more information:
Could opening a cockatoo litter box lead to an inventive arms race with humans? current biology (2022). doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.008 And the… 0960-9822 (22) 01285-4

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