New research and reports from local birders have documented a unique phenomenon in which Australia’s iconic sulphur-crested cockatoos open roadside rubbish bins despite increasingly sophisticated barriers, forcing both sides to up their game in the ‘arms race’ between the cockatoos and humans.
The scientists monitored 3,283 tanks in four Australian suburbs with abundant cockatoo activity over a period of a few years to get a snapshot of the conservation methods used.
Heavy bricks placed on rubbish bins are among fifty ways Australians have come up with to keep hungry cockatoos from opening their rubbish bins. Others have wedged water bottles or shoes into the lid’s hinge to keep the cockatoos at bay.
However, the cockatoos figured out how to overcome many strategies and pushed Australians to come up with more innovative solutions.
The cockatoos have adapted well to living with humans, and now humans are adapting to living with them, said co-author and research scientist at Taronga Zoo John Martin.
The video below shows a cockatoo pushing a brick off a trash can lid, opening it, and then looking for food.
“The birds scavenge for food and occasionally throw objects in the path,” Martin said in an article published in The Conversation.
“Needless to say, coming home and finding your rubbish on the floor outside your house is not appreciated.”
In a previous study conducted in 2019 and 2020, researchers found that around 60 percent of households escalated their efforts when the cockatoos figured out how to get past trash can protection methods.
Maintaining the harmony between man and animal
Martin said that we should learn to live alongside wildlife as our attempts to deal with such conflicts can have tragic consequences for wildlife.
“An extreme example is shark nets, which kill sharks but also kill or entangle non-target — and sometimes endangered — species like turtles, dolphins, nurse sharks and whales,” he said.
In many cases of human-wildlife conflicts, public education makes a major contribution to reducing the conflict.
“Understanding wildlife behavior and appreciating the fascinating traits of native species often changes community attitudes in a positive way – we can learn to love them instead of fighting them,” Martin said.
“Whether it’s finding new and harmless ways to protect your trash can from hungry cockatoos or behaving like a shark, there are positive actions we can take when we’re informed.”
One suggestion is to work with neighbors to monitor the cockatoos and remind others not to feed them.
Wildlife groups discourage feeding wild birds as it can lead to a dependency on human food, which can lead to unnatural behavior and ecosystem imbalance.
Human dependency can increase the spread of infectious diseases, property damage such as ripping of patio furniture and windows, as well as rat infestations and noise pollution in the neighborhood.
The method of clipping shoes into the hinge is also a strategy that hasn’t “yet” been solved by the cockatoos, the researchers said.