About me

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I’m Kaeli Swift, Ph.D. Since I was a kid I’ve loved wildlife—especially birds—and asking questions about animal behavior and cognition. While an undergrad at Willamette University (2005-2009), I discovered that crows and other corvids offered the perfect marriage of these interests, and I have been hooked on them ever since. In 2012, I was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to pursue this passion as a graduation student at the University of Washington. As a Masters and Doctoral student (2012-2018), I dedicated myself to understanding what American crows do in response to dead crows, as well as what adaptive motivations might drive their response. My research included both field-based projects observing wild crows, and non-invasive/non-lethal functional imaging studies aimed at understanding what was going on in the crow brain during these experiences. Visit the Previous Research and Publications pages to learn more about these projects. Currently, I am a Post-Doctoral researcher at the University of Washington studying the foraging behaviors of Canada jays in Denali National Park. You can learn more about this study on the Current Research tab.

What follows after my PostDoc position comes to a close in the fall of 2019 remains to be determined, but science communication will forever remain a core part of my identity as a scientist and person. As a child, I struggled immensely with school. While I loved science, I did not see myself as someone who could become a scientist. Even outside of those with learning disabilities, women remain vastly underrepresented at the most high profile and visible levels of science communication. I aim to be a part of the growing number of women seeking to change this, and welcome any opportunity to bring science to the public. I regularly give public talks to audiences ranging from elementary students to careered academics. Video, audio, and print reports of my research have been featured by National Geographic, PBS, the New York Times, The Atlantic, Ologies podcast, Science Friday and many others. For collaboration or to schedule a speaking event, please contact me at kaelis@uw.edu.

 

514 responses to “About me

  1. Venita Gallaway

    Hello Terrie,
    Would this area be Mill Creek South Portland Maine? I leave a few miles from there and have noticed their behavior around the area when I shop.
    Thank you for sharing any news b/c I love these birds!
    Venita

  2. Hi Kaeli,

    Wow, what an honour this must be for you. Putting all those hard-working researchers, ecologists, conservationists, naturalist bloggers on the map. More of the same, please.

    https://en.blog.wordpress.com/2019/01/03/introducing-the-2019-anything-is-possible-list/

    Well done, again.

    Tony Powell and naturestimeline

  3. Darlene Salter

    I am glad that you are calling Perisoreus canadensis Canada Jay. Gray Jay was such a drab name for such an intelligent interesting bird. Now that the name has reverted to Canada Jay, hopefully Canada Jays will soon become Canada’s national bird.
    On January 14th I witnessed a Canada Jay putting beef fat from a suet ball feeder into the mouth of another jay’s mouth. A third jay was off to the side. This is a family of three, parents and one of their three young from last season. I suspect that the male was offering food to its mate as part of the courtship ritual. I have observed Black Terns offering food to their mate prior to nesting.
    My feeders attract one pair of Canada Jays at home, 3 pairs at our cabin and 2 pairs on a 6.5 km trail where I have feeders. When hiking the trail, they come to investigate when they hear my dogs barking at squirrels. Sometimes they follow me around the entire trail.

  4. Lynne Fouquette

    Hello, Dr. Swift — I read all your research and your posts here and on IG and Twitter (I swear I’m not as creepy as that sounds). I always hear in your words your affection for the animals you study and encounter. But your deep love of Go is deeply touching. It takes courage to really love anyone, but especially an animal that we know we will outlive. I know there is nothing that can mend your heart for the loss of Go, but I just wanted to add my condolences. She was a really beautiful bird and you two obviously connected in a special way. —Lynne

  5. Lovely blog! Thank you for taking the time to write and maintain this. My family and I have been involved long term (some 25 years now, spanning three countries) in rehabilitation and rescue of birds. Namely Psittacines including Hyacinthine macaws, and extremely rare pheasants and a range of raptors and corvids. Corvids are among our favourites and most of our fondest memories revolve around their antics. Keep up the good work! We love reading this!

    Sincerely,
    Hadassah
    UK

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  7. Jennifer Musick

    Hi. I have a crow story that has perplexed me and stuck with me for nearly 15 years. I’ve never been able to make sense of it. It happened in the alleyway behind the old Trader Joe’s on top of Queen Anne hill in Seattle. I’d love to tell you the story if you would like to hear it. Maybe you could shed some light on the strange behavior I witnessed.

  8. Robert Grandmaison

    My spouse and I have a mated pair of ravens that would often visit our water bowl on our deck- and in looking at cameras, have done so for many years. We’ve taken to feeding them raw meat and they seem to enjoy it and fly away with some for their caches. Lately, though, they’ve disappeared and we haven’t had a visit from either of them in many days, if not a couple of weeks. I did see them attempting to build a nest atop a nearby tree recently (that nest never came to fruition).
    I’m assuming they must have another nest nearby. Do ravens behave differently during nesting season, like not straying far form the nest? Do they rely on their cached food more at such times, or is that only for the lean time of the year?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Robert, females do stick tight to the nest while incubating and later brooding nestlings. Males are more mobile, but tend to stay close to the nest tree because extrapair copulations are more of a risk with ravens. I don’t know where you live so can’t really speak to the food availability of your area. But generally speaking no, ravens don’t rely heavily on cached food to support breeding efforts the way other corvids, like Canada jays, do.

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  11. area? Monares

    Hello Ms Swift, have you ever seen a crow with white legs in Seattle erea?

  12. Hello, Dr. Swift/ Kaeli,
    I was wondering if commenters can post videos here. I recorded a pair of very large beautiful ravens who seemed to be scolding a human. I wrote you a while back about the neighbors who have kept a crow in a large cage on their balcony for almost a decade since he was a fledgling, and how this was breaking my heart. Well, the only time my heart is not breaking for him is when other crows visit him. Which seems to happen quite frequently in spring.

    Recently a pair of Ravens visited him and were hanging out on the deck and making a lot of cawing sounds in the direction of the crow’s “owner” as if they were actually scolding him for imprisoning their fellow corvid. Like the ravens, I feel it is wrong and said, but I know they fear if they release him he’ll die or be killed and are there rescue groups who could give him a home with more freedom? I am located in coastal southern California. Any thoughts out there?

  13. Terrie Black

    Well the babies are here! My 2 crows in my apt complex have had 2 babies. One adult trains with 1 baby (fledgling) and the other takes 1 baby. I don’t know how they can put up with the constant nagging for food that the adults handle. A noise only a mother (or father) can love. But I’m happily watching my crow family. They tried to have babies before, but none of them survived, I’m guessing. My crows watch for me and they know my car. They have even come right up to the side of my car and just stood there. They are teaching their kids to look for me too. I just hope the kids don’t think all humans are as nice as me. The adults are getting peanuts and dog food from me, and then washing them in the water bowl I leave out for them. I saw one with a Dorito chip and he washed it before eating it. Why do they do this? I love my crows so much, I’m thinking of a tattoo of a crow.

    • It’s a pretty common behavior. It makes the food softer and is also a good way to get more water!

      • Terrie Black

        Hi All,
        Well, the babies are gone. It’s just back to Ralph and Alice (my crows). I thought that they stayed with the parents for a longer time, like a year? I think the babies must have gone to the lake by the Safeway with the multitude of other crows from around here. Why did they only stay with the parents for about 3 months? Well at least my 2 crows are here to entertain me. Or I guess I entertain them.

  14. Dana Knickerbocker

    Great class at NCI Karli.

    I am now looking at crows and really all birds in a different light now.

    Most animals seem to have intelligence and emotion and are not mindless automatons. I have talked to friends who raised chickens. While they are not considered bright birds, they have said the birds have distinct personalities.

    I love how you imitate crows, especially when they start choking because they are so upset.

  15. Beth Ammons

    Hi. I have been feeding crows for years. The last feeder they had was on the deck and it was messy, so we constructed a feeder using a pole with a baffle to prevent raccoons and a board as a platform where I put their food. Now all my crows have disappeared! I’m so sad. Are they upset with me for moving their feeder? Are they afraid of the new feeder? Please share any ideas you have that might help me bring them back! Thank you!

  16. Hello Dr. Swift,
    Crows must recognize each other as individuals. Do we know how? Also, how well do you, or other researchers, do in recognizing individual crows? I’m assuming much of it is size, shapes, perhaps missing or irregular feather patterns, also behaviors–is there more?

    • We don’t know how Certainly vocalizations play a part by beyond that we really don’t know. I am certainly pretty bad at it myself unless these is some kind of distinctive feature like an injury or white feather.

  17. Keelan

    I’ll be sharing your story with my daughter, Kaleigh (age 12), who loved science and engineering-ish things until a year, or so, ago. Birds (and science) are cool – and for everyone!

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  21. Kirk Cormier

    Hi, my name is Kirk Cormier, a retired Biologist and long time bird watcher. I observed some very unusual bird behavior last year. I was deer hunting in a stand overlooking a food plot of grasses. There were crows feeding in it as usual when a Red-tailed Hawk flew down to a small tree very near the crows. I thought this was unusual as crows and hawks don’t usually get along well. The crows seem completely unafraid. Then three of the crows formed a loose line and began walking down the food plot. The hawk looked on and moved to a better watching branch as they moved on. It was fairly obvious that the crows were attempting to flush up something for the hawk and at the same time pick up some insects. This went on for 15 minutes or so and ended when the hawk flew off after nothing was flushed. It was the most interesting cross species cooperation I have ever witnessed. I thought you might find this interesting.

  22. Bill Clarkson

    Nice picture on the Corvid Research page of you and a handsome bird! Tell us a little more about him/her. I assume it’s a wild corvid who become your friend! As you might remember, I had a crow who was a member of my family, but was never caged or confined. Had a good deal and knew it! There are many crows where I live, and I’m a big fan of them. Bill Clarkson

  23. Terrie Black

    Hi All,
    I just love that this is a place where we can share about corvids (especially about crows). They get a bad rap because they are successful. People just don’t realize how wonderful they are, especially when you have the privilege of getting to know them. I also have several Jays that feed on peanuts from my patio (although they make quite a racket when they land on the rail). I am looking forward to going to England where I hope to meet some Rooks and Jack-daws. I want to see the ravens at the Tower of London, where the ravenmaster keeps his flock that fly freely during the day. How exciting. Anyone been there? They say that if the ravens go away the crown will fall and they have been there for quite a long time.

  24. Roberta Purves

    Hello, I don’t know if you’ll get this message. You wrote in an article that crows killing off bird species is “undeserving” I was born and raised in Torrance California lived there my whole life now 58 and raised my children there. I grew up with a bird and animal loving family. Every spring our neighborhood would explode in happy sparrows and many other birds getting the nesting together ready for the babies. You would see bird all year long all kinds everywhere. In the early 2000s I noticed more crow. Notice how they where starting to call out in very early mornings. Sit on top of high points. I had seen many raiding nests in trees. One time seen a crow upside down yanking a baby bird out of a street light cover. Fast forward 15 years. Miss, there are no birds other than seagull, pigeon and the crow in my neighborhood and all surrounding cities. The crow walk around and pick through the grasses for bugs. There are hundreds on golf courses, college campuses all over Palous Verdes. They have decimated the song bird. It has caused me great sadness that animal control never did anything about it. So the crow is I feel a flying pestilence. If it is legal to kill them then this will be my new sport. I love animals of all kinds love birds but the crow population needs to be considered and controlled. Thank you hope I get to read your views.

    • Hi Roberta. Well, as you saw in my article, my view is that your assessment of cause and effect are not supported by science. Most outdoor cat lovers don’t believe cats are responsible for the global decimation of birds, but unfortunately for their feelings and intuition, the data shows us they are also incorrect. I give that example because, as a self identified bird lover, I assume you appreciate the impacts of cats on birds. Can you consider that your attitude here is no different than someone supporting cat colonies? Or denying climate change? For a moment, consider what it might mean to your feelings about crows if you opened yourself up to the reality that study after study shows they are not responsibly for the general decline of other songbirds. Ask yourself what would the data be that could convince you of that and how is it really different from what is already available. If the answer in your heart of hearts is “nothing, you’re sure you’re correct, crows are awful, the science be damned” then there’s not much I can offer you. If that’s the case, all I can say is it’s a real shame that a that a self described animal lover chooses to hate and kill particular wildlife because of their misplaced feelings.

      • Excellent answer, Dr. Swift. If convenient, could you share some of the studies with us–assuming they are publicly available? I ask because I’m interested both in songbird decline and crows, particularly corvid intelligence. (I’m currently reading “The Genius of Birds.”)

      • Bill Clarkson

        This reply relates to the “dialog” between Roberta and Kaeli:
        Kaeli is right on. Science beats emotion, opinion, politics, … . I live in Manhattan Beach CA where we have many crows and songbirds. (BTW, crows are classified as songbirds, so it’s illegal to trap or kill them.) The species peacefully coexist. As for feral cats …

  25. Andrew

    Hi! I live in Portland and have a great relationship with the three crows near my house…they come when I whistle, and follow me home from the nearby coffee shop (and I feed them nuts).

    Lately however, it’s been disrupted by a pair of doves who witnessed the feeding, and and have taken up post on my roof and nearby phone poles for the past month. They’re around all the time and chase the crows away when they approach. I’ve taken to chasing off the doves when feeding, and the crows are now content to eat right next to me as I keep watch on the doves, who sit on my roof staring at us all.

    So, what’s the deal with these doves…is this common? I don’t really like these doves, but I respect their right to their roost and have no interest in getting rid of them (though I wish the crows would). Just wondering if you have any more info on this sort of behavior, and why the crows can’t defend themselves against these guys. Thanks!

  26. Hi, Dr. Swift and Roberta,
    Here is a CNN article about the North American bird extinction that is happening due to climate change. This was published today.
    https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/10/weather/north-american-bird-extinction-audubon-weir-wxc/index.html
    And a quote from the article:
    “And more alarming than the loss of songs and flashes of color at the backyard feeder is what birds like the American robin tell us about the speed of the changes.”
    And here is another article from a major Canadian newspaper in 2016:
    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/science/report-finds-north-american-skies-quieter-by-15-billion-fewer-birds/article31876053/ And quote:
    “North America has more than a billion fewer birds than it did 40 years ago, with the snowy owl and the chimney swift just two of the better-known species in dramatic decline across the continent, a recent survey has found.”
    Dr. Swift, your response was spot on. The evidence has been growing for a long time. But we live in strange times, with epidemic levels of Americans adverse to scientific fact or inquiry – especially if those facts point to a need to alter their lifestyle and thinking. Even a little curiosity would help – step outside the comfort zone and reflect on what is going on, the long term effects of technology, chemicals, and destruction of habitat, etc. Oh well, let’s blame the crows because that’s easier. Crows have been around a long time, and yes, I have seen them stealing mockingbird babies, even blue jay babies from their nests near my house in San Pedro. (These were ravens actually, but Crows, and other animals have been known to do this). But this has been going on for millenia, and according to studies, the impact of crows on bird populations is small. The real culprit is human activity and the domino effect of our negative impact on ecosystems. Hello!
    I love all nature, and yet that love is so tinged with sadness now due to the knowledge of what is happening in front of our eyes. And a sense of helplessness and as those in power entrenched in stubborn ignorance, anthrocentricity, are not only ignoring this imminent calamity for even willfully pushing for further destruction – guaranteeing mass extinction.
    Once gone, these wonders of millions of years of evolution will never return and our planet will be a poor (uninhabitable) substitute of what it was before humans became so disconnected from nature and themselves.

  27. Clara Lebow

    Hi Kaeli,

    I caught your talk about Canada Jays at AOS this year, it was great! Your research is so cool; thanks for sharing it and your corvid photos with us! I’ve been wondering for awhile, do you ever let artists use your corvid photos for inspiration or reference?

    • Hi Clara! Sorry we didn’t make a formal introduction at AOS. Next time! Yes, I’m always happy to let folks use my photos for art. Do you want one?

      • Clara Lebow

        Hi Kaeli,

        I think AOS was insanely busy for everyone, and I remember how popular the Canada Jay talks were :). And, if you wouldn’t mind, I would love to paint one of your photos! I’ve seen some of them on Instagram, and I like how expressive the crows are.

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