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Clever Cockatoos in Sydney Learn How to Open Garbage Cans by Copying Each Other

Researchers in Sydney, Australia have discovered that sulphur-crested cockatoos cleverly learn from one another by copying what the other does. This was fully demonstrated with outdoor garbage bins across New South Wales. One cockatoo was taught how to lift the lid and others remarkably followed suit much to the amused dismay of the homeowners.

In recent years, there have been reports of cockies flipping open the lid of household waste bins to steal leftover food. And it turns out cockies pick up these lid-flipping skills by copying each other, allowing the behaviour to quickly spread across suburbs in New South Wales.

This study started when Dr. Richard Major, an ecologist at the Australian Museum, captured one of the birds in action. He then contacted Lucy Aplin, a fellow ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour in Radolfzell, Germany

The clever cockie got Dr Major wondering whether this naughty behaviour was due to genetics or a skill the bird learnt from others. So he sent the video to study co-author Lucy Aplin, who studies social learning in animals at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour in Germany. …Before the survey took place, bin-opening cockatoos had only been reported in three suburbs. 

Then it spread — fast. 

By 2019, the researchers learned that this foraging behavior had spread over 44 communities.

Diving in deeper, Dr Major and his colleagues also found the bin-opening behaviour spread more quickly to cockatoos in neighbouring suburbs than those further away. This suggests that the cockies were picking up their bin-raiding skills from their mates. 

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