Dutch Language Blog

Crows and Dutch Ingenuity Posted by on Feb 7, 2018 in News

Last month, I wrote about some very interesting projects started by the Dutch. I came across another one this month, that I would like to share with you: Crowded Cities.

Photo taken by Jennifer C. found on Flickr.com with license CC BY 2.0

Sigarettenpeuken or cigarette butts are an issue in all major cities. In the Netherlands, 6 billion cigarette filters are thrown to the streets each year creating a problem for city officials. How can cities cope with this unbelievable amount of cigarette butts without it costing too much?

The Dutch startup Crowded Cities has a solution: crows.

Crowded Cities

The founders of Crowded Cities have created The Crowbar that trains kraaien or crows to pick up the butts. The crows deposit the cigarette butt in the container, and, once the container verifies that this is in a fact a cigarette butt, it gives the crow a little bit of food thus incentivizing the hard work of the crow.

According the website Animals Today:

De kraai is een uiterst intelligente vogel. Ze staan bekend om hun probleemoplossende vaardigheden en geweldige communicatievaardigheden. Wanneer een kraai bijvoorbeeld een mens tegenkomt die het niet goed met ze voor heeft, leert hij andere kraaien hoe ze die persoon kunnen identificeren. Onderzoek heeft zelfs aangetoond dat een kraai een gezicht niet vergeet.

Veel kraaien zijn op zichzelf, maar ze eten wel vaak in groepen. Een groep kraaien wordt een ‘moord’ genoemd. Als een kraai sterft, omringt de groep de overledene. Deze begrafenis is niet alleen om te rouwen om de dode, maar ze komen ook bij elkaar om uit te zoeken wat hun lid heeft gedood. Als het een roofdier is geweest, spant de groep samen om het dier te achtervolgen.


While the project sounds very practical and helpful for cities, there are some obstacles. There is no study (yet) into the dangers for crows. Could the toxins from the filter harm the crow in the few moments this is in the crow’s beak? We know the side effects of smoking and second hand smoke in humans, but a study about these problems in animals exposed to the cigarette butts and the smoke has not been done.

There is also the cost of buying and maintaining The Crowbar. How many of these devices would a city need to have and would a lot of maintenance be required to clean the Crowbar and add food to it.

Some people might also be uncomfortable with the idea of an increase in crows flying around cities. There are superstitions related to crows about bad luck or even announcing death, not to mention people who are just plain scared of these birds. In Papendrecht, near Dordrecht, there was an incident of crows attacking people. The following video explains more.

Finally, there is a bit of a moral issue with this project. Do we really need to train crows to do something that people can do for themselves? Perhaps we simply need a good evaluation of trashcans availability in the cities and more conscience from everyone.

What do you think about this project? What method do you think would be the most effective to keep our cities clean?

Useful Vocabulary
uiterst- extremely
probleemoplossende- problem solving
communication skills
zijn op zichzelf-
in this context, it means independent but it can also mean introverted
to mourn
spant samen- colludes

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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!


  1. Peter Simon:

    This is a great idea! But even more should be done to eliminate hondenpoep! Besides, for me, this here is less about health hazards to crows (the butts excrete only a minimum of smell, let alone smoke) or their numbers (there are thousands and thousands already, not to mention the new influx of those crazy and aggressive seagulls), but about how we expect the crows to discover the connection between the small butts and the food offered. They are intelligent but careful birds. And “terroriseren” is not only a little bit overdriven. C’mon, people, don’t throw your cigs away, and collect your own dog’s shit, and then there’s no more problem, health-wise or otherwise. We are responsible – also for the influx of gulls, as they find more and more trash thrown away. Without that, they’d have to move on to find food. Same with pigeons (esp. further west of this country) and ducks. Just don’t feed them and your lawns in parks will get cleaner.