Nature’s Cleanup Partners: How Trained Bird Flocks Are Keeping City Parks Pristine

These feathered friends have been trained to collect trash. They can be seen swooping in at any moment clearing the cities green spaces.

The unique initiative has been designed for one thing only, to raise awareness about littering in the green spaces of the UAE. Using the flock of litter-collecting parrots and crows it is hoped will encourage the countries citizens to clean are their own act.

Barari Natural Resources is using the birds to help citizens living in and around the nation’s capital in its ‘Nature Educates Us’ campaign. The organization manages more than 400 forests and nature reserves in Abu Dhabi.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Whiteoak / The National

The bird’s trainer Germán Alonso Malo said it was a novel way to help solve such a pressing issue. From Spain, he began training the birds early last year.

“If a bird is able to pick up trash, why can’t humans do the same thing?” he said.

“We wanted to start with crows because they are very clever. But the problem was, in the beginning, we had no crows and we wanted to start as quickly as possible,” Mr Alonso said.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Whiteoak / The National

“So we started with three parrots. They joke a lot and you’ll see that they are a little bit like clowns but they also do a good job. But the crows, of course, are the better workers.”

Once enough crow chicks had been collected, they were added to the program alongside the parrots in April. Birds generally speaking have excellent sight, so they can find the smallest pieces of plastic and cigarette butts with ease.

Once they had been trained to collect trash, the next task was training them to sort it into different trash cans. Even though there were over 25 birds, to begin with only five crows and two parrots were deemed smart enough to continue the program.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Whiteoak / The National

The birds will be appearing at public parks and reserves all over the city to demonstrate the importance of disposing of rubbish correctly.

“You can see in a few seconds. If they are clever, it looks like they listen to you. And others turn around and look towards other things and don’t concentrate. Or some of them are afraid,” Mr. Alonso said.

The other birds will be bred to create the next group of crows to be trained.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Whiteoak / The National

Mr Alonso said it was important for the birds to be intelligent so that they can adapt to new environments and challenges posed by other animals in the wide variety of parks they will visit for demonstrations.

As well as being unsightly, discarded rubbish can be harmful to the environment.

Barari initially began considering adopting the idea in late 2018 after its chief executive, Ahmed Alblooki, was inspired by a similar initiative in France.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Whiteoak / The National

He asked Malik Rapaie, manager of Wildlife Conservation Services at Barari, whether such a scheme would be possible in the UAE.

Mr. Rapaie said that there were several obstacles to implementing the same program in the Emirates.

“We cannot have the same crow that they trained in France because that one is an indigenous local crow,” he said.

Instead, they chose the Indian house crow, an invasive species found in Abu Dhabi near the mangroves.

Mr. Rapaie is hopeful the plan they hatched will pay off – for the good of the environment.

“There is really an issue here about littering rubbish in non-designated areas. All parks are really suffering from this,” he said.

Watch a video of the crows being trained in France below:

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