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These mega-smart crows are cleaning cigarette butts off city streets — and saving millions of dollars in the process

Cigarette butts alone make up a whopping 62% of all street litter in Sweden.

Corvid Cleaning crows

Photo Credit: Getty Images

You've heard of cleanup crews, but what about … cleanup crows?

As part of a new anti-litter initiative, the Swedish city of Södertälje is using some fine-feathered friends to help clean cigarette butts off of its streets. 

The startup behind the mass crow-bilization is called Corvid Cleaning, in honor of the crow family's scientific name, corvidae. The company's business model is simple: It employs crows (voluntarily, of course) to pick up cigarette butts and drop them into a special machine. For each cigarette butt a crow places into the machine, the crow will get a small piece of food.

The Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation estimates that cigarette butts alone make up a whopping 62% of all street litter in Sweden. And these butts can be expensive to clean up. 

"The estimation for the cost of picking up cigarette butts today is around 80 öre [Swedish change] or more per cigarette butt, some say two kronor [around $0.20]," Christian Günther-Hanssen, the founder of Corvid Cleaning, told The Guardian. "If the crows pick up cigarette butts, this would maybe be 20 öre per cigarette butt." 

According to The Guardian, the savings could amount to 75% of the nearly $2 million that Södertälje spends on street cleaning each year.

So, why crows? The biggest reason is that they're incredibly smart. Their brain-to-body ratio is the largest among bird species, and studies have shown that New Caledonian Crows — the breed employed by Corvid Cleaning — perform as well on certain reasoning tasks as five to seven-year-old children. 

They've also been observed making compound tools, a talent only previously displayed by humans and great apes. With these special skills, they may be able to do more than just clean cigarette butts.

Corvid Cleaning is not the only company training these amazingly advanced avians to pick up litter. French startup Birds for Change has created its own BirdBox machine to encourage crow cleaning. 

Other bird species are getting in on the act, too. In February 2022, a Swedish father and son team built a bird feeder that encourages wild magpies to pick up trash in their neighborhood.

Though birds may not be ready to replace garbage trucks anytime soon, their progress has been encouraging, which is certainly something to crow about.

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