Cockatoos In Sydney Stun Researchers With Trash Bin Opening Skills

“It is by now well accepted that humans are not the only animal to have complex culture,” opens a recent paper published in Science.

While this is true, the paper goes on to show just how widespread this facet of the animal kingdom is. It’s not just primates and mammals that are this developed — the paper discusses how the sulfur-crested cockatoo has built an entire culture around trash cans!

The paper, titled Innovation and geographic spread of a complex foraging culture in an urban parrot, chronicles “the development of a cultural adaptation to urban environments” among the cockatoos that live in Sydney’s neighborhoods.


Notorious in the area for rummaging in trash bins and considered a “pest” by the Government of Western Australia, the non-native species has flourished in the area because of their intelligence and communication skills.

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Researchers tracked the behavior of the cockatoos when attempting to open trash bins in Sydney neighborhoods and saw that only a few birds were clever enough to hop onto the side of the can, nudge their beak under its lid, and shimmy alongside it to reveal the treasures inside.


Near these birds, other cockatoos would watch and learn. As the researchers continued their observation over the course of nearly three years, they noted that the behavior spread “from three suburbs to 44 in Sydney, Australia, by means of social learning.”

That last part is the real key to this study. It’s not just mimicry — researchers documented unique local “flair” to the way some groups of cockatoos opened trash bins depending on where they’d learned the behavior or what kind of bin stood in their way.


The aggressive and mouthy species isn’t exactly beloved in the area, despite their smarts. They interfere with native species and agriculture, having spread beyond their native parts of Australia.

While the study is yet more proof of the beautiful complexity of the animal kingdom, residents of Sydney aren’t exactly thrilled that cockatoos are sharing new and exciting ways to make a mess! See them in action by watching the video below, courtesy of the Australian Museum!

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