Man Creates Bird Feeder That Trains Magpies To Exchange Trash For Treats

A lot of people don’t give birds enough credit for being intelligent beings. But they are – especially crows and the subspecies of crows. Magpies, who are relatives of the crow, are known to be very smart and trainable.

And there is one artificial intelligence researcher, Hans Forsberg, who took an interest in magpies after noticing the magpies in his neighborhood were quite intelligent. This then led Forsberg to begin training the birds to trade pieces of litter in exchange for food.

Forsberg invented what he calls the BirdBox. It is a machine that combines mechanical design, electronics, software, plus a 3D printer to sense when a bird deposits a bottle cap into the machine and gives the birds peanuts in exchange.

Photo: YouTube / Hans Forsberg

While the concept was simple enough, Forsberg did admit that it took him a long time to actually be able to create the food dispenser part. In the end, what he came up with was a vibrating food dispenser that is extended by funnels. How it works is that the magpie will place a bottle cap into a hole and that triggers the peanuts to be dispensed through a tube. All this is possible through the Raspberry Pi system, which has a camera monitoring detection system just beneath the trash hole and it will respond to a deposit.

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While Forsberg has had success getting these clever magpies to use his machine, the training part took Forsberg a little time to find the right approach. As he explained in his Hackster post, his methodology ended up being quite simplistic in the end. Forsberg stated in the comments on his Hackster post, “I arranged a ‘scene’ where the bird ‘accidentally’ pushed down bottle caps into a larger funnel, and while they were investigating the BirdBox trying to understand why it randomly distributed food. As the bottle caps fell down the funnel, the metal-detector tracked them and started the machine…then a few more steps (after that).”

It’s pretty cool to think that he’s actually got magpies in his neighborhood helping to clean up the environment using a food reward system. That is pretty clever of Forsberg himself. And the researcher even provided the details of how he made his DIY BirdBox on Thingiverse, where you can learn how to create your own. Additionally, he also has his own YouTube channel where you can watch streams of magpies using the Birdbox. Pretty cool invention, don’t you think?

Check out the BirdBox in action below:

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