Tenacious ‘trash parrots’ locked in escalating ‘arms race’ with humans Down Under

A sulphur-crested cockatoo, or “trash parrot,” hangs off a house roof in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

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Residents in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, are in the midst of an escalating feud with a neighboring population of wild sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) over an unlikely prize: household trash. While this conflict may sound comical, researchers report that it shows all the signs of an “innovation arms race,” in which two species become trapped in a cycle of behavioral changes as they continually try to one-up or outthink one another.

The sharp-witted cockatoos have earned the unflattering nickname “trash parrots” later learning to open up flip-top garbage bins to pillage their contents. In 2018, videos shared online showed the resourceful birds grabbing onto the rims of bin lids with their beaks or feet, shimmying down toward the hinge and eventually flipping the plastic covers entirely off the containers. After watching the footage, researchers investigated the behavior and found that the cockatoos were working out how to open the bins by observing one another, which is known as social learning.

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