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Cockatoos learn how to flip open garbage bins by copying each other


For most of us, dragging the bins out to the curb each week is a tremendous instance of home drudgery. 

But for cockatoos gazing down from the bushes, the sight of wheelie bins can imply time for supper.  

Key factors:

  • Cockatoos have been seen opening family garbage bins in suburbs throughout NSW
  • The bin-opening behaviour unfold to 44 suburbs in simply two years
  • The birds seem to learn these abilities by watching others and copying their strikes

In current years, there have been stories of cockies flipping open the lid of family waste bins to steal leftover meals. 

And it seems cockies decide up these lid-flipping abilities by copying each other, permitting the behaviour to rapidly unfold throughout suburbs in New South Wales, in accordance to a examine revealed right this moment in Science. 

Richard Major, an ecologist on the Australian Museum, stated the birds’ sharp abilities are one more instance of their capability to thrive in city areas.

“It really confirms that they are such winners at surviving in suburbia,” stated Dr Major, who co-authored the examine. 

“It’s just amazing how they can exploit a new environment.”

Catching cockies within the act

It all began when Dr Major noticed a sulphur-crested cockatoo up to no good on a wheelie bin in Stanwell Park, NSW in 2015.

With his cellphone digicam in hand, Dr Major captured a video of the thieving chicken because it lifted the heavy bin lid with its beak and foot.


The chicken rapidly shuffled alongside the sting of the bin to flip the lid over and dived in to rummage for meals scraps. 

The intelligent cockie received Dr Major questioning whether or not this naughty behaviour was due to genetics or a ability the chicken learnt from others. 

So he despatched the video to examine co-author Lucy Aplin, who research social studying in animals on the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour in Germany. 

The researchers knew a more in-depth look was so as, however first they wanted to discover out if cockatoos in other areas have been flipping bins too, or if it was only a quirk in Stanwell Park’s cockies. 

A quick-spreading ability

In 2018, the crew launched a web-based survey for residents dwelling in 478 suburbs throughout Sydney and Wollongong.

The two-year survey requested members whether or not they had seen cockatoos cracking into wheelie bins of their suburb, and in that case, when. 

Before the survey occurred, bin-opening cockatoos had solely been reported in three suburbs. 

Then it unfold — quick. 

The cockatoo bin-day menace.(

ABC: Ann Jones


By late 2019, the birds had been seen lifting bin lids in 44 suburbs, indicating that it had rapidly turn into a development amongst their yellow-crested residents. 

“That really blew me away,” Dr Major stated. 

Diving in deeper, Dr Major and his colleagues additionally discovered the bin-opening behaviour unfold extra rapidly to cockatoos in neighbouring suburbs than these additional away.

This means that the cockies have been selecting up their bin-raiding abilities from their mates. 

“If it was something that wasn’t learnt, you would expect it to turn up randomly across these suburbs,” Dr Major stated. 

Sulphur-crested cockatoos are actual characters stated co-author John Martin of the Taronga Conservation Society.

“I really love observing them and watching them observe me,” he stated.

“That’s what’s happened here with this new behaviour of bin opening, they’ve been observing each other and we’ve shown that they’ve been socially learning.”

The crew additionally observed that birds in several suburbs had developed their very own fashion of lifting bin lids, indicating that they have been seemingly copying birds from the identical space. 

For occasion, some birds grabbed the deal with of the lid with their ft, whereas others used their beak.

Some even used a mixture of the 2 to crack open the lid. 

Male cockies are bin-opening masters

Next, the crew took a more in-depth take a look at which cockatoos have been prying open family bins.

The crew marked 114 cockatoos with a dab of paint in Stanwell Park and famous their intercourse, weight and social dominance. 

They discovered solely 9 of the birds efficiently flipped open the bins, with one other 27 making an attempt the duty however failing. 

A group of cockatoos The teams of bin raiders have been usually led by a dominant male.(

ABC: Tim Swanston


Most of the profitable bin raiders have been dominant males, which have a tendency to be bigger and stronger than other cockatoos. 

The relaxation hung round and watched on because the bin-opening pioneer flipped the lid. 

“It’s not a puzzle that the birds are all solving by themselves,” Dr Major stated.

“One bird will solve the puzzle, and then because other birds are watching, they’ll copy it. That’s how the behaviour is spreading.”

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and proper arrows to search, up and down arrows for quantity.ListenDuration: 25 minutes 2 seconds25m Play Audio. Duration: 25 minutes 2 seconds Sulphur-crested cockatoos are opening wheelie bins and turning trash into treasure. Listen to RN Offtrack to hear extra about this superb chicken..Download 34.4 MB

Dr Martin stated they do not but know how the cockatoos began their bin foraging.

“Did the birds explore the bins or did they find a bin that was already open and therefore learn there was food and subsequently learn how to open a bin to get to the food? It’s a mystery,” he stated.

“It isn’t a desirable behaviour opening household bins, so there are a number of strategies to deter them, but it is a very fascinating behaviour from a scientific perspective because of innovation and the social learning component.”

Lifting lids for enjoyable?

Cockatoo opening garbage bin with another looking on Cockatoos decide up their bin-opening abilities from others of their suburb. (

Supplied: Barbara Klump/Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior


Gisela Kaplan, a behavioural ecologist on the University of New England who specialises in birds, stated that whereas the unfold of bin-opening behaviour amongst cockatoos is fascinating, it is not clear from the examine whether or not discovering a meal was the largest motivation behind their antics. 

“There could be multiple explanations for this activity,” stated Professor Kaplan, who was not concerned within the examine. 

“It can be mischief just for the sake of it, or just plain curiosity.” 

She added that other chicken species have additionally been recognized to decide up behaviours that do not have a transparent profit. 

For occasion, blue tits have been seen stripping lids off of milk bottles, a quirk that has unfold all through populations in England, Professor Kaplan stated. 

“You can adopt new behaviours simply by watching. It doesn’t have to have any greater motivation than that,” she stated. 

Work continues with the assistance of citizen scientists

The subsequent step for Dr Major and his crew is to preserve monitoring the unfold of bin-opening behaviour in cockatoos and examine how they work round bins which have been cockie-proofed with rocks or bricks on their lids. 

“There’s plenty more learning to be done by cockatoos here, and we’ll be following it,” Dr Major stated. 

woman with cockatoo Suzie Roessel has many cockatoo guests in her yard.(

ABC: Tim Swanston


Citizen scientists like Suzie Roessel proceed to give the researchers further eyes and ears throughout Sydney.

She stated many cockatoos go to her, however she hasn’t seen them open bins but.

“I have names for around 40 or 50 of them, we hang out on a daily basis,” she stated.

“I’ve seen them learn from each other, a few I’ve trained to do footsies – they’ll grab my finger with their foot.”

“There’s new birds that arrive now and they’re much faster to train after they’ve seen the other ones doing it.”

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