A half-dozen feathered friends of the Puy du Fou park in western France’s Vendee region will begin earning their keep in earnest next week according to a recent report put forth by The Guardian, with six crows joining the payroll.
To be more specific, the birds belong to the category of Rooks, members of the crow family with nearby cognates such as jackdaws, ravens, and carrion crows — and are considered to be the most intelligent birds of the corvid family to which most crows belong. In addition to their high levels of intelligence — which makes them eminently suitable for training in simple to complex tasks — rooks are known to easily bond with human trainers and are apt to create a relationship through play.
Their task will be to help keep the park clean, though as park President Nicolas de Villiers is quick to point out, there is not much of a serious trash problem, to begin with, as most patrons of the Puy du Fou park are tidy in and of themselves.
“The goal is not just to clear up, because the visitors are generally careful to keep things clean… nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment.”
The primary motivation behind the clean-up efforts, as far as the crows are concerned, comes in the form of a small box set in the park. Upon depositing a small piece of trash or garbage — a cigarette butt or a gum wrapper for example — the box will dispense a nugget of bird food for the hardworking flyer. Such conditioning has proven to be effective in training repetitive behavior in most species in the animal kingdom, from dogs to birds, to human beings themselves.
Corvids of all sizes and descriptions have been said to have markers of intelligence several degrees higher than other avians, with crows, in particular, having been named the first animals to be seen carrying objects using a tool to do so according to The New Scientist.
Magpies have also demonstrated a great degree of avian intelligence, and also belong to the corvid family. According to The Guardian, research published in the Animal Behavior journal has illustrated that the cunning Magpie has learned how to discern the meaning of bird calls from members outside of their genetic family — in particular that of a honeyeater bird known as the noisy miner.
Noisy miners elicit different calls based on whether an incoming predator is based on the ground or in the air, with eavesdropping Magpies dropping their gaze to the grass in the case of overhearing the former call and lifting their beaks to the sky in response to the latter.
Whether the crow clean-up pilot project will take off successfully remains to be seen, but with such a low overhead and wages measured in pellets rather than in dollars and cents, it seems cost-effective to seize the opportunity presented and the potential payoff should the project prove successful.