How Clever Are Australia's Cockatoos?

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Cockatoos in Australia have figured out how to steal from garbage cans and seem to be learning from one another.
Cockatoos in Australia have figured out how to steal from garbage cans and seem to be learning from one another.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure how some clever cockatoos in Australia were enticed to learn how to open wheeled trash bins and help themselves to the food waste inside. Maybe the overly full bins were an open invitation to lunch. Or maybe bin lids were blown open on windy days.

In any case, sulphur-crested cockatoos – a highly intelligent parrot species known in Australia for their loud screeching and sometimes destructive behavior – have learned how to open the bins themselves, and researchers think they’re teaching other members of their species how to do it.

Before 2018, bin foraging was seen in limited areas. By the end of 2019, sightings were reported in 44 suburbs of Sydney. “It’s not popping up randomly,” explained researcher Barbara Klump. “It’s following the geographic layout of the suburbs."

Studying the clever cockatoo:

  • Extensive research (published in the journal Science) has determined how the cockatoos get into the trash. The crafty birds open the lid with their beak, contort their body to hold it open with a beak or foot, walk along the rim, and finally flip the lid open.

  • The research team was able to collect so much data by surveying Sydney residents to find out whether they had witnessed any cockatoos demonstrating bin-foraging behavior.

  • The large-brained, long-lived and highly social cockatoos seem to know the difference between waste bins with red lids and recycling bins with yellow lids. The researchers found that the birds go for the waste bins 88.8 percent of the time.

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for wiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education.
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for wiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education.

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    • Cockatoos in Australia have figured out how to steal from garbage cans and seem to be learning from one another.
      Cockatoos in Australia have figured out how to steal from garbage cans and seem to be learning from one another.