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Crow Box Teaches Birds to Pay For Food & More

Tired of shelling out money to feed birds without getting anything in return? With the Crow Box feeder, now you can train crows to pay for their food with spare change from the street.

Yes, we know you don’t feed birds with the expectation of anything in return (except to enjoy the company of colorful birds in your backyard), but the Crow Box is an interesting vending machine for birds that could have wider implications.

The Crow Box, which was discussed in a TED talk way back in 2008, was recently resurrected by the Daily Mail, and since we didn’t write about it back then, we’d thought we bring it back up, especially in lieu of a recent news story about crows offering gifts to a little girl in Seattle.

First let’s talk about how the Crow Box works. It trains crows to collect and deposit coins into the box to retrieve peanuts by using four steps. First, the device releases some peanuts and two coins when a bird leaves the machine. Then it does the same thing when a crow arrives at the machine.

0Once the crow knows that if they wait, the machine will give a reward, the machine will only dispense the coins and no peanuts.

If a crow takes the coin off the tray or puts it in a box, the machine will dispense peanuts. Eventually, the bird will hopefully bring its own coins from elsewhere to get peanuts.

Despite some of the controversy surrounding whether the creator actually succeeded in training crows in the wild to bring coins, the logic behind this is sound.

Crows are not only highly intelligent but they are also partial to collecting shiny objects like coins. Not long ago, a sweet story about a girl who received hundreds of gifts from crows because she fed them. It’s not so hard to believe crows would also bring coins in exchange for food.

Why would we want them to do this?

Aside from teaching the crows new skills and further demonstrating their superior intelligence, this can also be a stepping stone to training crows to do other tasks like separating electronics, cleaning up trash, and even participating in search and rescue. While the thought of training wildlife to pick up our trash because we’re too dirty and careless is morally disturbing, the idea of search and rescue is a bit more palatable.

If you want to be part of the experiment, you visit the Crow Box site to find out when more boxes will be released.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.