From Baretta to Bin Thieves
July 22, 2021 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Cockatoos in Australia Are Teaching Each Other How to Loot Trash Cans [Sciencealert] "Before 2018, the results show these bin-opening skills of cockatoos were confined to just three suburbs of Sydney, each separated by quite a lot of distance. Yet after 2019, the technique had rippled out to 41 surrounding neighborhoods as well."
Yet not all the cockatoos tackled the trash bins in the exact same way. In the far north of Sydney, for instance, cockatoos might be more likely to walk around the right side of the bin while holding the lid, while in the center of the city, these birds might shimmy or hop with the lid on their head. Article includes embedded bin-opening videos and this non-bin-related link which is completely awwwwww.

It probably depends on whom the birds were imitating when they first learned the skill.

"Our results show that the spread of innovation can not only result in establishment of culture, but can also further lead to emergent geographically distinct subcultures," the authors write.
posted by hippybear (33 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I'm tempted to see if I can teach our local crows this skill. Fortunately our bin lids look too heavy for a crow to lift!
posted by monotreme at 9:08 PM on July 22

I think this may be based on data from Big City Birds.
posted by zamboni at 9:25 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]

I, for one, welcome our new avian overlords.
posted by aneel at 9:38 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]

An article on the same thing on the ABC's website, including a youtube link of the cockies actually opening the wheelie bins. (Do they know to open the red garbage bins and leave the recycling bins alone, or do they open everything)?

Cockatoos are hilarious, and they are smart enough to do thing for play reasons. I've watched cockatoos doing loops on a street light like a gymnast on the parallel bars. They absolutely will destroy things, especially expensive things, out of sheer mischief.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:47 PM on July 22 [11 favorites]

Those cockatoos are standing on the shoulders of cream-guzzling blue tits half a world and half a century away.
Remember the kestrels of Porto? They are looking less like dinosaurs and more like stroppy teenagers.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:00 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]

I didn't know that there was a Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, but I suppose having an Erwin Schrödinger Institute do the observations would be ethically and conceptually problematic.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:19 PM on July 22 [5 favorites]


Now we have two breeds of bin chickens.

posted by andreaazure at 11:34 PM on July 22 [8 favorites]

If you think this is some sort of animal kingdom space race, clearly you don’t live anywhere with raccoons. The only bin lid that will keep them out is one with an actual combination lock. And even then, if they have seen you do it, I give them one chance in three they can figure it out.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:13 AM on July 23 [10 favorites]

Cockatoos, picking locks.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:04 AM on July 23

Cockatoo, cursing out a dog. (Sweary)
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:25 AM on July 23 [5 favorites]

My politics is the energy represented by these creatures.
posted by Gymnopedist at 1:28 AM on July 23

Cockatoo, dealing with anti- nesting spikes.
posted by antipodes at 2:46 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]

Cockatoos, being cockatoos.
posted by antipodes at 2:54 AM on July 23

Now we have two breeds of bin chickens.

Yes, the pointy bin chicken (ibis) and crested bin chicken (cockatoo).
posted by acb at 3:35 AM on July 23 [6 favorites]

The other bin chicken. These seem a bit more intimidating.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:56 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]

I was thinking about making bird feeders in the shape of security cameras, so birds learn to tear them open for a delicious treat.
posted by nickggully at 6:17 AM on July 23 [9 favorites]

...cream-guzzling blue tits...

That's the risky click of the day
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:18 AM on July 23 [9 favorites]

They are in danger of becoming too much like us, which means, by some apparently ironclad rule of human psychology, that we are bound to come to hate them.
posted by clawsoon at 6:32 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]

Revenge of the Dinosaurs
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:01 AM on July 23

That's the risky click of the day

Also, possibly, a Shakespearean insult, like most bird names.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:31 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]

Cockatoos or Keas, dunno which one deserves the clever bastard trophy the most.
posted by dazed_one at 8:07 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]

Sean Dooley, the editor of Australian Birdlife magazine, said cockatoos “seem to take great enjoyment” out of doing that sort of damage, “whether it is random vandalism or more strategic damage”.

"Strategic" bird damage is the most worrisome type of bird damage.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:09 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]

They absolutely will destroy things, especially expensive things, out of sheer mischief.
posted by Fiasco da Gama

They particularly like to bite divots into human ears. Trust me, I know.
posted by Splunge at 10:12 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]

To anyone who has ever met a cockatoo, the only thing surprising about this is that it's only happening now.
posted by Devoidoid at 10:39 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]

We just left Australia and one of the things I will miss most is the cockatoos. In part that's because I did not own a house that they decided to dismantle. (We have friends who used to feed the cockatoos around their Queenslander until the birds decided to start taking the house apart.) Their beaks are powerful and they seem to be very curious.

One thing that wasn't captured in the links above is their flocking behavior, which if you're a non-Australian is pretty surprising. You'll see one in a tree, then two, and suddenly a hundred. They all hang out for while, calling raucously, and then - poof! - they decide somewhere else is the place to be, and they take to the air.

Keas particularly like shiny things, which cockatoos seem less enamored by. It may be good for humanity that the two birds are ever-separated by their climate preferences (keas like the snow) because if they teamed up they'd dismantle all our homes AND cars.
posted by rednikki at 10:48 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]

There’s an intergalactic version of this article that’s the other side of the story from Roadside Picnic
posted by q*ben at 11:20 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]

Australia's raccoons! I wonder if these cockatoos would be able to open the "Raccoon-proof" bins they made for Toronto?
posted by vespertinism at 11:34 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]

Well, if pigeons are colloquially flying rats, then why not flying raccoons?
posted by acb at 1:06 PM on July 23

La Cacatua Ladra
posted by BWA at 1:33 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]

...The other bin chicken.... "regurgitated bin juice" is my new favorite wine epithet. Andre Mack listen up!
posted by winesong at 3:44 PM on July 23

Cockatoos actively terrify me. Like, great, a talking, flying dinosaur with a beak that can break your fingers or take off your ears and a destructive streak to rival a teenager with behavioral problems. And, worse, it's generally upset about being kept captive as a pet and having it's wings clipped or kept in a cage. Oh, and it can live for 50+ years and carry a grudge the entire time?

However, watching videos of cockatoos misbehaving and swearing like drunken pirates from a safe distance? Hilarious.
posted by loquacious at 5:30 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]

beak that can break your fingers or take off your ears

I know a vet who had to treat a cockatoo who very much did not like being away from his human. This happened a decade ago but the angry cockatoo's beak and talons left scars you can see today.

Apparently angry parrots, especially the big ones like macaws and cockatoos, are worse than angry dogs.
posted by dazed_one at 10:58 AM on July 25

This is great and I would happily go out by being murdered by a cockatoo, but the fact that they - and crows, and magpies, and ibis, and whatever else you care to name - feel compelled to do this is incredibly tragic. The human view is that they are taking advantage of easy pickings. The reality is we have utterly annihilated their habitat, landscape, and ecosystems because we can't stop fucking because we think we are more important.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:40 PM on July 27

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