I can’t help but admire the parrots that steal trash in Australia
Welcome to the first installment of Gizmodo’s Animal Crime of the Week, a regular exploration of animals and their bad (but normal) behavior. And what better place to start than by shedding light on an animal crime ring so notorious that it is now the subject of intense study by scholars? Learn about the cockatoo parrots that steal garbage in Australia.
For many years, groups of sulphur-headed cockatoos in Sydney, Australia, have broken into people’s garbage cans and stolen the trash inside. The practice appears to have begun sometime before 2018, but only among birds in a few suburbs. Over time, this behavior spread throughout southern Sydney, with birds in different neighborhoods slightly modifying their burglary methods. In some areas, for example, parrots turn over the entire litter cover, while in others birds partially lift it.
Non-human animals that communicate socially are thought to commonly share and form learned behaviors among themselves. But the scavenger habits of birds appear to be one of the clearest examples of animal culture ever observed up close.
“(Our research) adds to the evidence that other animals have culture, and shows how new innovations can spread across populations to lead to new behaviors,” said Lucy Aplin, an animal behavior researcher at the Max Planck Institute, whose team has been studying birds. . For years, Tell Gizmodo in 2021.
Unfortunately, in this case, one parrot’s tasty treasure is another’s trash. The emergence of this behavior has led to a cultural clash between parrots and their human neighbors, and a type of… An arms race between the two has begun.
People have tried to prevent birds from breaking into garbage cans by placing bricks on top of them, for example, only for the birds to learn how to push them away. This in turn has prompted some people to take other anti-budgie measures, such as specialized locks. Interestingly, humans began to imitate birds by spreading their most effective tricks to each other.
No one really knows where this trash dispute will end.
“One can imagine that it will continue to escalate (i.e. parrots learn to overcome higher-level protections, and people invent better devices to protect their boxes) or that one party could ‘win’ the arms race.” Barbara Klump, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute, Tell Gizmodo in 2022.
Either way, it’s an elegant illustration of the unexpected ways in which animals and humans can interact with each other.
(tags for translation)Gizmodo