February 28, 2021

Young Man Sets Up A Bird Feeder That Accepts Bottle Caps For Food And Earned Some Loyal Magpies Clients

Our planet is full of fascinating animals, each of which plays a vital role in the ecosystem and makes the world a beautiful place for us to live in. But between all the species, birds are perhaps the prettiest. Birds are the beautiful creatures of nature blessed with a melodious voice. Birds make nature’s most beautiful and complex sounds. Because of their liberating ability to fly, they seem so unreachable and mysterious to us. Fortunately, there is a way to meet with nature face to face and explore all types of birds in their natural setting without scaring them away or causing any harm.

For 20 years, a pair of magpies have lived in Hans Forsberg’s yard.

The birds usually keep to themselves, but when Forsberg observed the curious magpies opening the complicated locks on his outdoor lanterns, he got an idea.

So, he trained the friendly neighborhood magpies to recycle bottle caps in exchange for food using a machine he built from scratch.

Magpies are pretty smart as birds go—so smart in fact that they now set an example with recycling trash

Image credits: Hans Forsberg

“The magpies were looking for the paraffin candles that were in the lanterns,” he told The Dodo. “My curiosity was aroused … Could I challenge the magpies to solve missions?”

Tom is a researcher whose work is more on artificial intelligence and specializes in computers and robotics. Looking at the birds, he wondered if he could train them to pick up litters with the help of a machine. In return, they’d be getting food.

“Finally, [I had] a hobby project where I got to start from scratch,” Hans said. “There were no how-tos to Google here — it was entirely up to me!”

So, he invented a workbench that would throw out food in exchange for metal scraps, bottle caps, and other trash that would be dropped inside the slot. At first, the birds were suspicious and avoided the machine.

Computer scientist Hans Forsberg built a machine that dispenses food in exchange for bottle caps

Image credits: Hans Forsberg

“They are quite neurotic so I had to have patience — the slightest change in the rig or equipment, and the adults would be suspicious for a day or so,” Hans said. “These have been the birds I have worked with for a few years.”

Things started to become interesting when the couple magpie built a nest in a nearby cherry tree and had four chicks that hatched in Spring.

“These chicks started to investigate the machine after the adult parents were gone,” Hans said. “The chicks are braver — almost stupid like teenagers. One walked straight into our kitchen.”

Whenever a magpie drops a bottle cap into the designated hole, it gets a treat from the dispenser

Image credits: Hans Forsberg

Eventually one of them figured out what amazing thing the machine can do and since then picking up trash in exchange for food. Although, his siblings rather prefer to steal his food rewards.

In the future, Hans hopes to train his bird neighbors to pick up more trash in the community like cigarette butts or fallen fruit. That may mean building another machine and retraining his bird friends, he’s always up for the challenge — and so are the magpies.

Over several years, he taught the neighborhood magpies to recycle bottle caps littered around the neighborhood

Image credits: Hans Forsberg

The adult magpies are cautious, but the young ones are keen on keeping the environment clean

Image credits: Hans Forsberg

The project is actually much more complicated than what is said here as it also involves vibrating motors, a number of very particular moving parts in the dispenser, and even its own graphic user interface to log the progress and status of the bird box. For more details, you can read up on it in his story on Hackster.

Turns out, this project has been running for several years as it’s not that easy to train magpies to pick up trash. Hans explained that he first had to get the birds interested in the feeder, to feed them regularly, and to persuade them to visit him during their patrols.

It was also a bit of a challenge every time there was the slightest change in the rig as the adult magpies were suspicious and cautious of everything. Good thing all of this changed when they had offspring. The chicks are braver in approaching the machine and partaking in this elaborate recycling scheme.

In the future, he hopes to teach them to pick up other kinds of trash, like cigarette butts

Image credits: Hans Forsberg

Check out the videos of the friendly magpies cleaning up the neighborhood

At this point, there is one chick who has fully figured out how the system works and has been hard at work collecting bottle caps to trade for food. His siblings are more mischievous about it as they tend to steal the rewards from underneath the hard working magpies’ beaks.

He hopes to move on to other bigger and better things than bottle caps—to train the birds to pick up fallen fruit, cigarette butts, and other things in his backyard as well as the entire neighborhood. Maybe this will finally put litter bugs to shame knowing that even animals partake in recycling.

Hans also made a brief explanation video of the food dispenser

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