In Hans Forsberg’s yard, a pair of magpies have made their home for the past two decades.
Recently, Forsberg noticed their curiosity as they adeptly opened the locks on his outdoor lanterns in search of paraffin candles.
Inspired by their cleverness, Forsberg, an artificial intelligence researcher, embarked on a unique project to train the magpies to clean up litter from his garden in exchange for food.
“The magpies were looking for the paraffin candles that were in the lanterns,” Forsberg stated. “My curiosity was aroused … Could I challenge the magpies to solve missions?”
With his expertise in robotics and computers, he designed a workbench for the birds, complete with a recycling slot for metal scraps and bottle caps and a treat dispenser.
“Finally, [I had] a hobby project where I got to start from scratch. There were no how-tos to Google here — it was entirely up to me!”
Initially hesitant, the adult magpies eventually embraced the contraption, but their four curious chicks truly took to the challenge.
“They are quite neurotic, so I had to have patience — the slightest change in the rig or equipment, and the adults would be suspicious for a day or so. These have been the birds I have worked with for a few years. [However], these chicks started to investigate the machine after the adult parents were gone. The chicks are braver … One walked straight into our kitchen.”
As one of the chicks successfully exchanged bottle caps for food, it became an enthusiastic litter cleaner, while its siblings proved more interested in pocketing the rewards.
Looking ahead, Forsberg aims to expand the magpies’ repertoire to include tasks like picking up fallen fruit and cigarette butts by constructing another machine and retraining his avian companions.
Together, they are prepared to tackle these new challenges and continue their efforts in keeping the neighborhood clean.
See the Magpies in action here: