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Beware: Cockatoos In Australia Have Officially Learned How To Open Trash Bins

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    According to ABC news, in recent years there have been reports of cockatoos flipping open lids of household waste bins to eat the food out of them. Turns out, based on a story published in Science, the cockatoos have learned this behavior in a very short span of time by copying one another's behavior. 

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    An ecologist at the Australian Museum, Richard Major, said that this is yet another example of why cockatoos are thriving so much in urban areas. "It really confirms that they are such winners at surviving in suburbia," said Dr. Major, one of the authors of the study. "It's just amazing how they can exploit a new environment."

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    Sulphur-crested cockatoo

    ABC reports that the first incident of cockatoos opening up trash cans was caught in 2015, with Dr. Major capturing a video of it in Stanwell Park, NSW. Shuffling along the edge, the bird managed to get the bin open quite quickly, and immediately began searching for food. That raised a question: is this behavior genetic or was it leaned from other birds. And after sharing this question and video with other scientists, a whole research project started. 

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    "In 2018, the team launched an online survey for residents living in 478 suburbs across Sydney and Wollongong," reports ABC. "The two-year survey asked participants whether they had seen cockatoos cracking into wheelie bins in their suburb, and if so, when." Before this survey, cockatoos opening bins was something that was spotted in only three suburbs. But not for long. By 2019, cockatoos have been seen lifting bins in 44 different suburbs. 

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    "That really blew me away," Dr. Major said. After looking further into it, the scientists have realized that bin-opening practice spread more quickly to cockatoos in neighboring suburbs than those further away, suggesting that the birds were learning the skill from other birds. "If it was something that wasn't learnt, you would expect it to turn up randomly across these suburbs."

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    Sulphur-crested cockatoo

    Co-author John Martin added: "I really love observing them and watching them observe me. That's what's happened here with this new behavior of bin opening, they've been observing each other and we've shown that they've been socially learning." Amazingly, it was also discovered that birds in different suburbs had developed their own style of lifting bin lids - with some using only their feet, some using their beaks, and some using both, depending on which suburb they were in. 

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    Sulphur-crested cockatoo - SULO 0114958 115BLINTM WEEIN Sutherland Shire e

    Not every cockatoo can open the bins though. Turns out that mostly, it's the dominant male cockatoos opening the bins, being that they are stronger, while the others merely watch the spectacle. "It's not a puzzle that the birds are all solving by themselves," Dr. Major said, adding: "One bird will solve the puzzle, and then because other birds are watching, they'll copy it. That's how the behavior is spreading."

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

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    Bird - 0262529

    And if you think we were kidding when we said that cockatoos can just be jerks sometimes, Gisela Kaplan, a behavioral ecologist at the University of New England who specializes in birds, is here to back up up. She says that it's unclear whether food was truly the biggest motivator for this behavior. "There could be multiple explanations for this activity," said Professor Kaplan, who was not involved in the study. "It can be mischief just for the sake of it, or just plain curiosity." And to be honest, we like this option much more. 

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