Bird feeder experiment

Having built several bird feeders for different purposes, I have found that observing how the birds use the feeders and collect more data which helps to understand their behaviour. There have been many experimental studies on bird feeder, not only to learn about the habits of birds, but also to train them to provide services.

Birds are very intelligent than specially the birds from corvid family, such as jays, ravens, and crows. They are as smart as chimpanzee and performing as well as primates in problem-solving tasks. This is because they have a relatively large forebrain with densely packed neurons.

Then, let’s see they can provide what kind of service.

These crows are trained for pick up trash at a theme park in Les Epesses, France. When they pick a trash to the container, they will get food reward. They help keep theme parks clean and draw people to think about why there are cigarette butts for the birds to pick up. This bird training is very good idea. However, the container works manually. It will be much better if the container is an auto-machine.

CrowBox is a vending machine project built for birds. The project teaches crows to deposit dropped coins in exchange for food. In order to let the crow adapt the experimental equipment, the training process was divided into four stages:

  1. Let the crows discover the vending machine with free food provided.
  2. Food will be provided when crows land on the vending machine.
  3. Food will be provided when crows deposit the provided coins.
  4. Food will be provided when crows deposit a coin they found.

Once a crow has completed these four stages, other crows can quickly learn from their peers.

The concept behind CrowBox is based on the fact that most people don’t like crows. Crows have a bad reputation because they make a lot of noise, destroy crops, and kill small birds or newborn lambs. Some places even allow the killing of crows as a way to control them. However, crows are really smart animals. Why not train them to do something useful to occupy their time, instead of killing them?

Therefore, the project releases the CrowBox with open source design and optimized training protocol. As a result, anyone can try to train their bird in their own place. It is expected that more and more people will train crows to collect trash, discarded electronics, and maybe even help with search and rescue one day.

Other than CrowBox, someone in Sweden also train magpies to collect caps for food in an auto-machine.

The auto-machine was designed by Hans Forsberg by Raspberry Pi, motors and.  He trained a pair magpies in his garden, step-by-step to adapt to the system, and eventually they would find a cap to trade for food.  Hans Forsberg further tried to train his magpies to collect soda can.  May be birds are possible to collect fallen fruit and leaves from the road in the coming future.

Beside training of birds, bird feeder also helps in analysis the bird habits. A bird feed can be a science research station if records down the coming and going birds. Through new technologies, these data can be recorded automatically with the help of artificial intelligence.

Bird Buddy is a smart bird feeder with a webcam and an app. Users can install the application to control Bird buddy’s camera and get the data sent by Bird Buddy. It can help to capture photos of visiting birds automatically. It can also identify birds through photos or songs with AI algorithms and display more information about the bird.

The system includes a built-in photo album that users can unlock when they catch a new bird. It is designed as a gamelike system. This helps attract more people to feed the birds and support nature conservation.

The system collects all the data from each user at different locations. When all the collected data is combined, it is “big data” that further helps analyse the distribution and abundance of birds.

There are more experiments on bird feeders even for high school students, such as study the  colour of a bird feeder and birds’ selection, observing the behaviour and habitat of wildlife birds via webcam. These projects are associated with the promotion of conservation and educational goals. This is also the ultimate goal of most bird feeding experiments.