Train an army of crows to gather treasure for you

Craft & Design Energy & Sustainability Science Technology
Train an army of crows to gather treasure for you

Josh Klein developed a machine that trains crows to trade coins for peanuts. Literally, for peanuts. So you fill this thing with peanuts and set it out, say, in a public park, and the crows will scour the ground for loose change, carry it to the machine, and drop it in a slot in exchange for food. The project, dubbed “CrowBox,” made a big splash when he unveiled it back in 2007. Now he’s made the complete plans for the CrowBox freely available online so you can roll your own. And there’s no reason you couldn’t train your fly-monkeys-fly to gather other crow-portable objects. Twenty-dollar bills? Keys? iPods? Human eyes? The possibilities are endless. Set one up at the beach! Train seagulls to trade whole wallets for pre-shucked oysters!

18 thoughts on “Train an army of crows to gather treasure for you

  1. Sean Carnes says:

    Is there any video footage of this in action? Before anyone says so, i googled and searched youtube. I’d really like to see even a short clip of a crow landing, dropping in a coin and getting a reward. Not that i don’t believe it works, but i’m debating on building one. I’d like to see it function before investing so much time, you know?

    1. Morder says:

      I seriously doubt the amount of lost change within a mile of the box would make you any money. The worst that could happen is birds could actually start stealing money from unsuspecting patrons of business or pulling coins out of nearby fountains. Having the box with anything similar happening will definitely run you into some trouble. The point of the experiment is the big picture: Training birds to pick up trash or something similar. – Morder

      1. Morder says:

        I should clarify: The creators point is to make crows useful to society rather than be the pest that humans make them out to be.

      2. Kristoffer Berdal says:

        Coindidently, i saw this in a Donald Duck cartoon years back when i was a kid. Not sure if this was a DD cartoon translated from english, or just made in norwegian.

        But i am positive “Mr. Duck” trained pidgeons to do the same.

        If it happened in Donald, it must ofcourse work in reality ;)

        Kind of cool in any case though.

  2. Volkemon says:

    @Sean Carnes-

    Yeah, I am almost crying “shenan…” Even the video file on the link, about 4 minutes long, shows what looks to be birdfeeder level activity. One would think that with a goal of this magnatude, ANY sort of video clip, even with captive, trained brds, would be important.

    The caption with the video asks us to note the seagulls appearing to be clueless.. looks more like the crows are fighting over the birdfeeder and the seagulls are too timid to enter the fray.

    ht**tp://ww***ojects/crows/ima**ges/ is the link- take out the **. Seems if I post a comment with a link it is never seen again….’held for approval’. Even if my text is entered right..

  3. Thomas says:

    Link: google josh klein retraction, 4th link or so at regret the error dot com.

    “The Times has since learned that Klein was never at the Binghamton Zoo, and there were no crows on display there in June 2008. He performed these experiments with captive crows in a Brooklyn apartment; he told the reporter about the Brooklyn crows but implied that his work with them was preliminary to the work at the zoo. Asked to explain these discrepancies, Klein now says he and the reporter had a misunderstanding about the zoo…

    Klein did get a professor at Binghamton to help him try it out twice in Ithaca, with assistance from a Binghamton graduate student, and it was not a success. Corvid experts who have since been interviewed have said that Klein’s machine is unlikely to work as intended.”

  4. booya radley says:


  5. mike S says:

    This was explained extensively at a TED talk which can be found online. He explains how he went from studying crows to eventually creating this machine. It includes footage on the machine as well.

  6. Nigel Burke says:

    Lurk in the bushes, wait ’till it’s full. Pick up te box and run away, dispensing peanuts to distract the crows.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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