Crow scare crow.

Over the years, people in Japan have been having an increasingly hard time co-existing with the sizable crows here. I mean “sizable” both in terms of population and the fact that they’re pretty big. They’ve been known to cause trouble for everyone from Pokémon GO players to our own staff, but they’re especially problematic on trash day.

When everyone puts their garbage bags curbside it becomes a paradise for the scavenger birds, who tear through the bags with their large beaks and pluck out whatever they want, leaving a huge mess in the process.

The standard method of prevention is to put a special net over the bags that makes it hard for crows to get into the bags. However, being the clever birds they are, they’ve been learning how to pull the bags out from under the nets through the sides.

▼ I caught these guys having a garbage party the other day. I’m not sure if they lifted the yellow net right off themselves, or if the person just forgot to put it on.

In Adachi, Tokyo, this has been an especially pressing problem, and local officials have been hard at work finding alternative countermeasures for these big birds.

Studying crow behavior, it was found that they have a high regard for personal space and don’t like things coming in contact with their bodies. So officials tried hanging objects like brushes to dangle just above the trash piles. Initially, the crows were hesitant to bump up against the obstacles, but over time got used to them and it was back to business as usual.

This is where CrowLab, a crow damage consulting firm in Utsunomiya City, Tochigi Prefecture, was called in to help, with their CrowController system. Developed by studying crows for 20 years and collecting over 10,000 of their voice samples, CrowController is a shoe-box-sized speaker that literally tells the crows to go away in their own language.

CrowLab was able to isolate the specific cries that crows use to communicate when a threat such as a cat or hawk is nearby. If a crow comes close to CrowController, a motion sensor triggers an audio recording of that cry to tell the real crows that the area is not safe. In a trial period from June to September of last year, Adachi found that CrowController had immediate effects in some of their most crow-ravaged garbage collection points.

▼ CrowController in action: It’s the little grey box off to the side.

Not only that, but it seemed to have improved human behavior as well. Since people also trigger the CrowController sound, they also think crows are nearby and become extra careful about putting the garbage more properly and securely under their nets than before.

While the results are very promising so far, readers of the news online are skeptical that crows can be fooled forever.

“Crows are smart! It works for now…”
“I hope it works for a long time because crows have a lot of intelligence.”
“That’s impressive, but I’m worried it’ll lead to an ecological imbalance.”
“I want a crow-translation machine too!”
“I’m sure they’ll learn soon.”
“Caw! Caw!”
“It would be nice if the crows never got used to this.”

Perhaps the effectiveness would boil down to how sophisticated CrowController’s design is. If the motion sensor and audio files are always the same, the birds might be able to recognize the patterns eventually and find a way around them. But, if there’s an element of randomness when, where, and how the crow cries are played, it could keep them on their toes for a while.

Ultimately the proof will be in how prevalent CrowController becomes across the country. Adachi has already purchased five units and if they continue to work as well as they have been, one of these boxes may come to a street corner near you in the future.

Source: CrowLab, Yomiuri Shimbun Online, Twitter/@livedoornews, My Game News Flash
Featured image: Pakutaso
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