A Dutch Startup Plans To Train Crows to Pick Up Cigarette Butts

According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, cigarette butts make it to the most common type of litter, making it to about 1.69 billion pounds each year. Hence, coming to the rescue, a Dutch start up is thinking of training crows to do the needful: pick up cigarette butts. Crowded Cities wants to train urban crow populations to pick up our cigarette butts.


Crows, come from the family of scavengers and already enjoy the task of picking up human garbage, from the tiniest of corners. Crowded Cities founders Ruben van der Vleuten and Bob Spikman think they (holy crows!) be trained to identify and help clean up cigarette butts.

Crowded Cities, Dutch Start Up trains cigarette butts

Crowded Cities

Corvids (genus corvus, that comprises of crows, ravens and rooks) are known for their intelligence in the bird kingdom. They are known for their problem-solving skills and amazing communication skills. For example, when a crow encounters a mean human, it will teach other crows how to identify the human. In fact, research shows that crows don’t forget a face.

Crowded Cities, Dutch Start Up

Crowded Cities

To accomplish the task, the team will take help from Crow Box: an open-source project designed by Joshua Klein that acts like a vending machine for crow. Whenever a crow deposits a coin in the device, it rewards them with a peanut, thus teaching the birds to hunt for change. Spikman and van der Vleuten adopted this concept, swapped butts for the coins, and renamed it the Crowbar.

Crowded Cities, Dutch Start Up

Crowded Cities

The team will attract the birds to the machine by keeping a piece of food next to the cigarette butt. The crow is conditioned to return for more knowing that a snack will always be there. Slowly, the food will be moved inside the Crow Box, training the bird to get it only when it lands on the box. Later, the box will stop dispensing food, the only way for the crow to get fed is by nudging the cigarette butt into the receptacle.

As of now, Crowded Cities is raising funds for trial runs. They will also research into the harmful effects cigarette butts may pose to crows.

For those who still don’t believe in the idea, the startup’s founders encourage them to take a “Sunday morning to browse through some crow videos on YouTube.” Here’s a start-

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