The star pupil.
This slightly off the wall little project began when watching an age old BBC documentary called ‘Bird Brain of Britain’ on YouTube a while ago. The programme followed people building and testing ‘challenging’ bird feeders to see how smart birds actually are (Spoiler alert: they’re really pretty smart!)
Whilst I had seen that training a wild bird to use a feeder was *possible* I undoubtedly underestimated the amount of trials and tweaks that it would take to get it to actually work – and that’s before you even introduce any wild life!
I love the Raspberry Pi for projects like this, it’s just so adaptable and if something doesn’t work you can just reconfigure it until it does. My first version was frankly rubbish and also the switch was really tricky to make reliable and repeatable. It had to be sensitive enough to register a pigeon-peck (not sure how many Newtons one of those is tbh – need to look that up!) but also not so sensitive that just randomly tapping anywhere will trigger the button press. This took a lot of tweaking and several revisions before I had something that worked and I was happy with. The button is the vertical pad you can see in the video, next to the seed holder. I started with the button horizontally but this was way harder to make work every time so I switched to the vertical arrangement and it’s been spot on. The centre of the ‘button’ is actually a round picture of some seed and I initially started with a tiny seed glued (with food safe glue!) to the front to encourage the birds to find it – it definitely worked!
The other thing about the Pi is it’s also reliable. This project involves two Pi, one for the feeder and one for the motion detection / camera set up and barring one mishap at the start (my fault) it’s now sufficiently battle-hardened to withstand the elements. It’s been sitting outside in the wind and storms for over two weeks and has run flawlessly.
So… the burning question – Did it work?? – Can he push it??
..Yes, he can!
This is our one very regular visitor (Frank) It’s taken many visits over a couple of weeks for him to get more confident with the set up, he flew off completely the first time he found the button but has got increasingly confident with each visit. He’s now regularly visiting morning and evening for visits to the diner! 😀
He’s also quite protective of his new found food source – he’s still the boss pigeon and doesn’t take kindly to others trying to muscle in…
So, it seem it is possible to train pigeons with Pi! 😀
I’m genuinely thrilled how this has worked thus far. The original documentary showed pigeons doing significantly more complex things, including multiple button presses in the correct to order to dispense food. I’m definitely interested in seeing how much Frank is capable of. For now though, I’ll leave it set up like this – I think he’s earned a free lunch!
Until next time…..