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Humans and Cockatoos Are Locked in an ‘Arms Race’ Over Trash

Man and bird are engaged in a bloody conflict for waste, the most valuable resource, in Sydney, Australia. A group of researchers has been studying local sulphur-crested Cockatoos parrots for a number of years because they have become skilled at robbing trash cans and have even taught other parrots how to do it. The team also notes that, to varied degrees of success, people have begun to develop their own strategies to keep birds out in new research published on Monday.

Understanding the inner workings of animals from various species has long piqued the curiosity of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany. They published a thorough investigation on Sydney’s sulphur-crested Cockatoos‘ trash-robbing practises last year.

They discovered that the activity appeared to be an illustration of animal culture: it was a learnt behaviour that had extended from birds in three suburbs to Southern Sydney. Local Cockatoos adopted minor changes to the habit as the technique spread from one neighbourhood to the next, such as lifting the bin lid completely open or not, which is a behaviour that is very prevalent in human culture.

Last year, the researchers said that they were most interested in capturing the human aspect of this conflict. In fact, they have done exactly that in their most recent study, which was released on Monday in the journal Current Biology. The team’s goal is to document how skilled these Cockatoos might become at figuring out the most recent defences put in place to prevent them from finding their garbage treasure. They also plan to continue researching the underlying learning mechanisms that enabled these Cockatoos to become skilled trash collectors.

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