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Australia: Sydney has a tricky cactus problem

Sydney has a problem with tricky cockatoos: people and birds fight over rubbish bins

A cockatoo pushes a block lying in a garbage can. Litter bins have become a point of contention in Sydney between cockatoos and local residents.

© Barbara Klump / dba

Cockatoos in Australia are prolific. They open the lids of garbage cans in search of something tasty. This, in turn, allows Sydney residents to get creative when it comes to closing their bins. Researchers are also now studying this phenomenon.

Litter bins have become a point of contention between cockatoos and local residents in Australia. Sulphur-crested cockatoos in Sydney have developed a sophisticated technique to pry open the lids of plastic garbage cans with their beaks and feet, a research team led by Barbara Klump of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Konstanz reports in the current issue of Biology. . Residents are trying new tricks to keep the birds away as they dump garbage through dustbins.

“Once a cockatoo opens a litter box, other cockatoos will come and try to eat something tasty,” Klump explains. “They really like bread.” It is not known which fertile bird first came up with the idea – but it is clear that the behavior quickly found followers: according to a survey of residents in 2018, the tactic was observed in only three areas. By the end of 2019, birds were already fishing for food from garbage cans in 44 areas.

Rubber dummies of snakes

However, local residents reacted and found new ways to prevent the lid from being opened. In one survey, 61 percent of about 170 participants said they sought more and more drastic measures over time — because the birds came up with new ideas each time. Rubber dummies of snakes placed in tanks soon did not scare the cockatoos away, and even heavy objects such as stones in the lids did not deter the birds from their target for long.

“The stones seemed to work for a while, but the cockatoos got really smart,” a local resident was quoted as saying. The birds lifted the obstacles over the edge of the cover with their heads or beaks and freed themselves again.

“Not only do cockatoos socially learn how to open trash cans, but local residents also socially learn how to protect their trash cans from cockatoos,” Klump explains. “Residents come up with new safety methods on their own, but many learn them from their neighbors or people on their street, so they get inspiration from someone else.”

Two-thirds of those surveyed looked to their neighbors for orientation. This seemed to be similar in the case of Cockatoos, where techniques for breaking barriers spread among the local population.

Cockatoos are quick learners in Australia, elephants and macaques elsewhere

The most recent and still useful – human idea: shoes or plastic bottles are placed on two hinges so that the lids can no longer be opened. To be on the safe side, some residents also attached heavy objects such as water bottles filled with lids to cable ties. And it seems to be working — at least for now.

There are almost always species similarities between wild animals and humans, Klump’s team explains. An example is elephants in Africa, which destroy fields and always take new security measures, another macaque in Asia, which steals things from people and returns them only for food.