How much do you actually know about crows? Other than they are loud and sit on the tops of trees and make a bunch of noise? They always seem to lurk around and stare you in the eye a little too long for comfort, right? Well, turns out they are much smarter than you might think, and they may even be one solution to our garbage problem. Inventor Josh Klein started doing experiments in 2008 showing that you could train crows to use a vending machine, and not just that, but that they were smart enough to pass the training on to each other. Knowing this, how can we use crows to our advantage instead of just seeing them as local pests or flying rats?
Creators Josh Klein and partners came up with the idea and design back in 2008 and essentially showed that you can easily teach a crow to take a coin and put it in a machine in exchange for peanuts. Then building on this, they switched the experiment and the crows picked up random, abandoned coins and put them in the same machine in order to get peanuts. Spooked yet? Well, from there, the crows then taught each other and their young to put coins in machines for peanuts. (If you want to find out more about the vending machine experiment, Klein also appears on TED – the video is available on CrowBox).
Klein now wants others to expand on this experiment. Here’s how you can help: create your own crowbox, describe the construction and setup on public sites like CrowboxUnleashed, Instructables.com or Makezine.com, and plan your own experiment. Not sure you can train your own team of crows? That’s where Klein’s site comes in – all of the information from his experiment is public knowledge on the site to help get you started. So take a look, drop them a line at and, better yet, if you get one into workable production please post pics, instructions and tips so others can improve upon your grand design. They have all of the tips and steps up on their site, Crowbox Unleashed, but they need you to morph it and modify it.
Crowbox Unleashed is part funny experiment in the equivalent of “Stupid Dog Tricks” and part creative idea to take a new look at an often understood species. In this case, the crow – a “synanthrope” – or “animals that live near humans, and they’re an unusual type of species.” So instead of just killing off all crows because they’re misunderstood, what if instead we took the time to interact with them differently. Creating crowboxes creates a mutually beneficial relationship with the birds, and potentially a cheap, easy way to solve some of our problems. Of course, who wants to see murders of crows hopped up on peanuts knocking coins out of old ladies’ hands in order to get their daily fix? So instead of hating or fearing them, why not put them to work – the work of cleaning up the planet. Here’s how:
So what can we teach these crows to do besides put coins in slots for peanuts? Well, what if the crows were then able to collect garbage in exchange for, well, peanuts of one form or another? What if the crows could be used for search and rescue, in the same way that a dog is rewarded for doing their job of “finding” the target? Once you move past peanut machines, Klein hopes you will share your experiments with the broader public and hopefully promote a new understanding and love (well, at least understanding) of crows.
I first became aware of the bad crow PR when I read a Washington Post article that went into extreme depth on the intelligence of crows, the emotions they exhibit and also how they are being wiped out thanks to west nile. I found myself becoming very sympathetic to crows and not getting quite so miffed at them when they seemed to taunt me from the tree tops. Now learning that they are smart enough to learn tasks and pass them along brings even more sympathy to crows.
Even if you aren’t up to the task of making your own crowbox, maybe you’ll find yourself wandering over to the Crowbox website to see what the latest tricks these little buggers have performed. Is this just a way for Klein to lure others into what has become a 10 year obsession over crows? Maybe. Next thing you know you’ll be tracking the movements of your local murder, putting out food and calling them over for dinner. :Crowbox