Despite epithets like “bird-brain,” our feathered friends are actually pretty smart. Being able to maneuver in three dimensions at high speed must have something to do with it, and the cognitive abilities of birds are well-documented and still being researched. So it naturally makes sense to harness avian brainpower to keep one’s yard clean, right?
For the record, the magpies that [Hans] is training are very intelligent and strikingly beautiful birds who delight in swooping down to harass people, and who will gladly steal food from other birds and then poop on it and fly away. So they’re jerks, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be useful jerks. The goal with his BirdBox system is to use classic operant conditioning, where a desired voluntary behavior is reinforced by a reward. In this case, the reward is a treat dispensed by a 3D-printed vibratory dispenser when the bird collects a bottlecap from the yard and deposits it in the proper slot. The video below shows the birds doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.
[Hans] tells us that the trick is getting the birds to accept the BirdBox and to have them integrate it into their “patrol schematic” of their territory. Once that’s done, it’s a simpler matter to have them associate the bottlecaps with the reward. The other challenge is making everything bulletproof, or in this case magpie-proof. Did we mention that magpies are jerks?
The possibilities for trading peanuts for yardwork are endless; [Hans] mentions plans he has for fallen fruit clean-up, and mentions a persistent garden slug problem that the birds might be employed to remediate. If you want to try this, it might be a good idea to brush up on the work of [B.F. Skinner] and his pigeons of war.
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