Swedish Startup Trains Crow to Pick Up Litter in Exchange for Food

Corvid Cleaning, a Swedish startup specializing in training crows to pick up litter in exchange for food, claims that its program could save communities a fortune in cleaning costs.

According to the Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation, over a billion cigarette butts are left on Sweden’s streets every year which represents about 62 percent of all litter. Teaching humans not to throw cigarette butts on the street has so far proven impossible, but a Swedish startup claims it can teach crows to pick up after us and save local communities millions of krone in cleaning fees every year. Corvid Cleaning teaches wild crows to do our dirty work through a step-by-step learning process, that involves rewarding the birds with food for every cigarette butt they collect.

Photo: Christian Günther-Hanssen/Corvid Cleaning

“They are easier to teach and there is also a higher chance of them learning from each other. At the same time, there’s a lower risk of them mistakenly eating any rubbish,” company founder, Christian Günther-Hanssen, said. “They’re wild birds taking part on a voluntary basis.”

Although Günther-Hanssen hasn’t gone into details about the step-by-step teaching process, we assume it is very similar to the Crow Box we featured a few years ago. basically, the birds are first trained to associate cigarette butts with food, then a food dispenser that only drops food when the bird arrives is introduced.


Photo: Meg Jerrard/Unsplash

Then, by taking the food rewards away, trainers incentivize investigation, so that the crows start pecking on the machine eventually hitting a button that causes the food to drop. This opens the way to the fourth step, where the birds discover that the reward drops only when they put cigarette butts in an assigned container.

It sounds complicated, but crows are among the smartest birds on Earth, and such training programs have proven successful several times in recent years. In fact, Corvid Cleaning is so confident it can pull it off that it has expressed interest in testing it in on a larger scale, in the town of Södertälje.


Christian Günther-Hanssen believes that the initiative could save the municipality at least 75% of the costs involved with picking up cigarette butts, depending on how hard the crows work. If it proves successful, Corvid Cleaning hopes that it will provide a permanent cleaning solution that can be implemented in other parts of the country and eventually nationwide.

The novel approach to litter cleaning has gotten positive feedback online, but there are those who ponder the ethical implications of this project. The very fact that we can train crows to pick up cigarette butts, but we can’t get humans not to throw them away is hard to accept. Plus, there are the health implications of constantly exposing the birds to the toxins in cigarette butts, and the risk of making them reliant on the food dispensers.

Posted in Animals, News        Tags: , , , , , ,