WATCH: Smart swallows figure out how to open locking doors at UVic

VANCOUVER – A group of ‘smart swallows’ is proving that having a ‘bird brain’ can be a good thing.

About six months ago, a parkade at the University of Victoria was turned into a new bike centre with motion-sensitive locking doors.

Grant Hughes, who uploaded the video of the swallows to YouTube, said the nesting birds may have been locked in when they converted the parkade.

But they were not going to stay locked in for long it seems.

Hughes happened to hear the door open behind him one day and turned around to see the birds flying in to the centre. The birds managed to figure out how to trigger the doors from the inside and the outside and can now come and go at will.

“I don’t know much about bird behaviour, but they certainly figured it out,” said Hughes. “After I saw it on the Tuesday I came back the next morning, early morning, with my camera and my mini-tripod and set it up and did the shot.”

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Since uploading the video to YouTube, Hughes has had more than 370,000 views. He said he is surprised how much attention it has received. “Ususally I get maybe 200 hits in a year,” he said. “I just thought this was a neat thing to video and share with my family and friends.”

Will Rondow, who volunteers with SPOKES, the university bike recycling program, has been watching these birds for quite some time. There used to be a field outside the facility where the birds would nest and search for food.

“They’re barn swallows and I guess for a long time they’ve been habituated for nesting in human structures,” said Rondow. “What is surprising is that they’ve also habituated to the motion-detector doors.”

He said it’s neat to watch the birds go in and out of the doors at will.

“It seems pretty clear that the birds can figure out the cause and effect relationship between the motion detector and the door opening,” added Rondow.


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