Sydney parrots are still opening curbside bins, despite our best efforts to stop them

Credit: Barbara Clamp, author provided

Bloody hell! This cockatoo just opened my box eating the rest of my pizza. We can’t have that, I’ll put a stone on the lid to keep it from opening the container. The problem has been resolved…?

Thus began a file arms race In the outskirts of southern Sydney: Humans try to deter sulfur-topped cockatoos from opening curbside bins, cockatoos overcome their deterrent to feed on food waste.

The ability to open curbside chests is unique to southern Sydney cockatoos, but this behavior appears to be spreading. Last year, we published research revealing that this behavior is an astonishing demonstration of “social learning,” in which birds learn the technique of opening a trash can by observing their neighbor.

This had global significance – it meant we could add parrots to the list of animals capable of foraging, which also includes chimpanzeeAnd the Humpback whales And the New Caledonia crows.

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

our new search, published today, Documents 50 Ben-Protecting Roads. It provides another example of a global issue of human-wildlife conflict – in fact, it is rare to document a behavioral change of one species in response to the actions of others.

Parrots cause chaos

While opening cockatoos are great, they can also make a mess. Birds search the litter to find food, sometimes throwing things in the way. Needless to say, coming home to find your trash strewn across the floor in front of your house is underappreciated.

In southern Sydney, cockatoos have learned to open curbside crates.

Some people also worry that the food they are eating is not healthy for cookies, such as pizza, bread, or chicken.

This arms race is a unique story, as we show that it is not only social learning by cockatoos, but also by humans in response.

Through our community survey, participants reported how and when they protected their bins of cockatoos, that they changed their trash protection in response to how cookies were resolved, and that they learned new protections from their neighbors.

Our research shows that people have ratcheted up their methods to deter cockatoos from opening the boxes over time, with the cookies outpacing their efforts. This appears to prevent or hinder the cockatoo from opening the lid of the box (at least for now), while allowing it to be emptied when the box is overturned by the garbage truck.

A sulfur-top cockatoo pushes a brick from the lid of the box, opens it, and searches for food.

From rubber snakes to custom locks

Our research provided feedback on several innovative ways to stop cockatoos opening chests, but we plan to evaluate the success of the various methods in more detail in the future.

We’ll start with the quick and easy way to put a brick, wood, metal, or bottle filled with water over the lid of the box, making it too heavy for the parrot to lift. If the object is heavy enough, it should work.

If not, the cockatoo can push it, open the lid and get a feed, as shown in the video below.

A more sophisticated solution is to attach wood, metal or brick to the lid, or to attach the bottles to the top or bottom of the lid. This method permanently makes the cover heavy and appears to be an effective deterrent.

Another common method is to prevent the trunk lid from opening with a rope, bungee cord, metal spring, or stick placed through the handle or hinge. These methods have had only varying success.

An arms race over food scraps: Sydney's parrots are still opening curbside bins, despite our best efforts to stop them

Door mat protects the box from cockatoos. Credit: Barbara Clamp, author provided

Attaching a custom-designed lock was common as well and, if working properly, appears to deter cords. These locks allow the bin to open when tilted upside down by the garbage truck.

Some people have put metal or plastic nails around the edge to keep the birds from landing, or have installed baffles to keep the birds from putting their beak under the lid of the box. These methods seem to work.

Techniques with poor results include modifying the box lid to deter birds from landing or walking by making them uncomfortable, such as nets. Aiming to scare the birds by attaching a rubber snake is a fun method but it is not a common method, so it may not be effective.

However, the race continues, both in the suburbs where we studied this new behavior and in the new suburbs as this fast food behavior spreads to neighboring suburbs and, over time, beyond.

An example of the conflict between man and wildlife

we classify parrot Ben opened it as “a struggle between man and wildlife”. Such conflicts are common, from opossums on rooftops, to formal hens bin (Australian white ibis) foraging for free, to flying foxes roosting in urban areas or foraging in orchards.

An arms race over food scraps: Sydney's parrots are still opening curbside bins, despite our best efforts to stop them

One house used shoes to close the lid of the box. Credit: Barbara Clamp, author provided

Conflicts can be caused by noise, smell, faeces, damage to crops, gardens or buildings, or threats to people, livestock or pets.

Globally, human-wildlife conflict is common and varied – think lions eat livestock, monkeys steal tourists’ cameras, pigeons feed and live in cities, Seals sleep on boatsSharks bite people, ducks eat crops, and snakes share homes.

Our attempts to deal with such conflicts can have tragic consequences for wildlife. One extreme example is shark nets, which kill sharks but do not prevent them from reaching shore. They also kill or entrap non-target – and sometimes threatened – species such as turtles, dolphins, gray sharks and whales.

We must learn to live alongside wildlife instead, especially since “conflict species” may be endangered, such as gray-headed flying foxes (an important pollinator) or great white sharks (an important predator).

In many situations of human-wildlife conflict, public education goes a long way in reducing conflict. Understanding the behavior of wildlife and appreciating the remarkable traits of native species often changes society’s attitudes positively – we can grow to love them, not fight them.

So, whether it’s finding new, harmless ways to protect your box from hungry cockatoos, or the smart behavior of sharks, there are positive actions we can take if we are told.

To help with our ongoing research, please take 2022 Bin-Opening Survey Report whether you “have” or “didn’t see” the cockatoo open chests.

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

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