This Hi-Tech Bird Feeder Lets Clever Magpies Exchange Bottle Caps for Food

Magpie With Bottle Cap

You might not realize it, but birds are very intelligent creatures. Crows, for instance, can recognize human faces. Magpies, a relative of crows, are also known for their smarts as well as their affinity for picking up objects and finagling with things like locks. Artificial intelligence researcher Hans Forsberg noticed these clever creatures around his neighborhood and was able to train them to trade in pieces of litter for food. Using a combination of mechanical design, electronics, software, and a 3D printer, he produced a machine called BirdBox that senses when a bird drops a bottle cap into it and then dispenses peanuts in return.

To get to this point took years of work and testing. “I spent remarkably much time creating the actual food dispenser,” Forsberg explains. What he landed on was a vibrating feeder to which he added extensions and funnels. Once a magpie deposits the bottle cap into the hole, it triggers the reward to be delivered via a tube. This is made possible using the Raspberry Pi system that has a camera monitor and a detection system located underneath the table that can sense when something has been placed in the trash hole.

So, how did Forsberg train the magpies? It’s something that he had to figure out for himself. “It all ended up quite simple,” he says. “I arranged a ‘scene' where the bird ‘accidentally' pushed down bottle caps into a larger funnel, and while they were investigating the BirdBox trying to understand why it randomly distributed food. As the bottle caps fell down the funnel, the metal-detector tracked them and started the machine…then a few more steps (after that).”

If you’re interested in making your own BirdBox, Forsberg details his process and shares his DIY files on Thingiverse. See streams of BirdBox in action by visiting his YouTube page.

Artificial intelligence researcher Hans Forsberg trained magpie birds to trade bottle caps for a peanuts.

Magpie With Bottle Cap

He produced a machine called BirdBox that senses when a bird drops a bottle cap into it and then dispenses peanuts in return.

Man Teaches Magpie Birds to Trade Bottle Caps for Peanuts

Watch the birds in action:

Forsberg gives an in-depth explanation of how exactly he trained the magpies:

Hans Forsberg: Thingiverse | YouTube 
h/t: [Bored Panda]

All screenshots via YouTube.

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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