I found an interesting article recently, one that strikes me not only as a birder, but also because it reaches into my past. A French theme park, Puy du Fou, the second most popular theme park in the country (behind Disneyland Paris), has “employed” birds to pick up trash. A team of six trained rooks are scouting the park to pick up cigarette butts and other debris, and are rewarded with treats when they deposit their findings in the proper bins. Rooks are natural scavengers and one of the most intelligent bird species, so the task is easy for this clean-up crew. The idea came from the park’s falconers, though the birds are not intended to take away jobs from humans. Instead, the park hopes to raise awareness about bird intelligence and encourage people to dispose of their trash responsibly – “is the bird smarter than you and can do it better than you?” (Read more from NPR.)
This charming experiment resonates with me. First during college, then later during a period of career transition, I worked at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio, one of the world’s best amusement parks and home to more than a dozen roller coasters along with other rides, shows, a water park, and more. I operated different rides and coasters, ran souvenir carts, and directed a team over one of the park’s water rides, but the best job I ever had – one I still count as my favorite job ever – was being a sweep.
For 8-14 hours a day, I roamed the midways with my broom and dustpan, sweeping up cigarette butts, paper towels, spilled food, and countless other items (and yes, plenty of vomit). I got hideous tan lines, wore out the soles on my sneakers, handed out park maps, gave directions around the park, answered questions, and occasionally helped out with test rides, crowd control, and other duties.
I had my fair share of bird encounters as a sweep. On the bridge between the Corkscrew roller coaster and Magnum XL-200 (the first coaster in the world to break 200 feet in height), red-winged blackbirds regularly dive-bombed sweeps, most likely offended by the bright yellow of our uniforms. Working in the park’s Frontiertown area, mallard ducklings were a thrill early in the season, and along the Frontier Trail, the petting zoo often had resident geese and chickens. Out on the beach, the gulls were always entertaining.
I never did encounter a bird picking up trash, though I have no doubt that nesting birds in the area took advantage of debris, not to mention snacking on the scraps of pizza crusts, french fries, popcorn, and other treats. I’m thrilled, however, with this creative cooperation at Puy du Fou, and I wish it much success in terms of trash collection, intelligence studies, public awareness, and more. Picking up litter and learning about birds – what could be better?