About me

I’m Kaeli Swift, a PhD candidate at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington.  I have been passionate about animal behavior all my life, but what started as an early love affair with wolves has turned into a fierce ardor for corvids.  Specifically, my area of research is the thanatology of crows.

thanaCrows, like a number of other animals that includes non-human primates, elephants, dolphins and other corvids, appear to respond strongly once they discover a dead member of their own species.  Among these animals the responses can include: tactile investigation, communal gathering, vocalizing, sexual behaviors, or aggression.  For people who live or work closely with animals it’s tempting to anthropomorphize these behaviors based on our opinions of how smart or emotional the animals we care about are.  But as a scientist my job is to separate my personal feelings about animals, and use research techniques that allow me to objectively ask questions about animal behavior.  By conducting field experiments and employing brain scanning techniques developed by our team, I hope to gain insight into the purpose of crow funerals.  Perhaps they play a utilitarian purpose of learning about danger or social opportunities, or perhaps they are akin to the grieving process we experience as humans.  The brain scanning technique we use allows us to peer into the brain of a living, thinking crow, without ever having to euthanize the animal.

Studies that provide bridges from humans to other animals are critical to fostering a culture that respects and protects the natural world, and this is one of the reasons I most enjoy working with crows.   No matter their feelings for them, nearly everyone has a story about crows, even those people who otherwise feel quite separated from nature.  The fact that they are conspicuous and thrive in all kinds of human dominated environments, means that crows are a uniquely accessible animal, and offer a wealth of opportunities to connect people of all interests and backgrounds to science.  It’s my hope that our research will provide a more compassionate lens with which to understand crows, and contribute to a growing movement of corvid enthusiasts.  Feel free to ask questions or share your own stories in the comment section!

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241 responses to “About me

  1. Jackie Gause

    I’ve been feeding the crows in my neighborhood for months now & have formed some relationships, which I love. The most attentive big, gorgeous male showed off his youngster to me last week & I felt so honored. He greets me every day when my dog & I go for walks. Others in the hood do interesting things like flying over me & touching my head on the way- just to let me know he’s there. My dream is to have them trust me enough to let me touch them, which you’ve accomplished! I used to dislike these wonderful creatures, but decided to change my mind. Wishing you the best.

    • Thanks for your comment Jackie! I always like to know more about what brought people around to crows (helps give me new ideas and improves my outreach efforts). Would you mind sharing more about why you decided to change your attitude towards them? Thanks!

      • Karl Styrsky

        Jackie, that is amazing that the crows will actually touch you! I’ve been feeding the local population at my office and along my daily bike commute for many years and they are still quite wary although there are a couple of intrepid individuals who sometimes pursue me in flight as I ride by — very life affirming. I try to be careful with them by keeping some distance, sitting very still, not looking them on the eyes, etc.

        Kaeli, my personal interest in crows began when I first viewed Joshua Klein’s “Crow Box” TED talk. Until then I had ignored the animals and hadn’t considered them to have much”awareness”. Once I learned that they are so very intelligent and probably pay attention to me then I ever did to them I really started watching and learning.

  2. Crows In a Moment Passing By

    I caught them
    almost quiet:
    pine tree dreams
    of slick black rainbow feathers
    within branches
    armed long, spiky needles
    clasped by sweet sap,
    roiling caws started
    and black shapes
    with shaggy tail feathers
    bobbed out along limbs
    took flight
    long, sweeping flaps
    leaving the trees still.

    Constance Lee Menefee @ConnieMenefee

  3. Pınar

    Hi,

    Last week me and my dad “rescued” a crow fledgling after observing it for two days. It was able to fly a little but it couldn’t gain height. It was mainly on the ground with a parent almost always around. I wasn’t sure about taking it, but there are too many cats in our neighborhood and it was almost caught by one. Even though I know it’s the natural order, I couldn’t help myslef when my dad insisted. We’ve been feeding it for a week now, and it looks a bit better than when we first took it. It reacts to movement now, last week a car would pass by and it wouldn’t even move. I’m still worried and weighing on releasing it as soon as I see one of its parents. Meanwhile, there is something like an acne where its beak ends, and it can’t fully close its beak. This is very new, only been there for two days. You seem to be very experienced about crows, so I thought maybe you can help me with both the acne thing and thoughts about releasing. We live in Turkey so keeping a crow is not against the law as far as I know, but the vets here are mostly based on cats and dogs so I can’t ask them. I don’t know any nature organizations either. However, crows are not very much liked among people and the law says they’re the only kind of bird that can be hunted throughout the year. Long story short, I would be grateful if you can offer some professional advice. I took some pictures if its beak as well, and I can send them to you if you like. Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Pinar, as a I am not a veterinarian or licensed rehab professional I do not give rehab advice here. There are several facebook groups dedicated to such activities though that you can seek out instead. Good luck!

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