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 graduate 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. After graduating, I spent a year as a Post-Doctoral researcher at the University of Washington studying the foraging behaviors of Canada jays in Denali National Park. Visit the Previous Research and Publications pages to learn more about these projects. Currently, I am a visiting lecturer at the University of Washington where I teach a variety of ornithology and wildlife ecology courses.

No matter what my current or future job titles are though, 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.

 

590 responses to “About Me

  1. Michael Toms

    Dr Swift, Are there historical records of crows or raven going before waring armies like the Romans into battle?

    • Interesting question Michael. While there is certainly mythology about this (perhaps none more explicitly than in Celtic mythology and the stories of Badb) I don’t know of any historic records that actually bear this behavior out.

      • EmilyPigeon

        In Old Norse poetry, ravens were called “war gulls” or the like and warriors were referred to as “feeders of ravens” (I think of the latter whenever I toss some peanuts to my local friendly corvids). So there was, accurately or not, a belief that corvids scavenged on the battlefield.

      • Oh I like that name actually. It’s pretty metal. And they most certainly did help themselves to the battlefields!

  2. Nedret Gürler

    I have spotted and photographed an American Crow with white primaries, I’d like you to look at my photo if you are interested.

  3. Shaf

    Hello Dr.Swift,

    I hope you’re well. Almost 1500 years back the book of Quran (holy book of Muslims) describes that crows actually showed man how to do a funeral and bury the dead. The actual verse is:

    ‘Then Allah sent a crow digging the ground, to show him how to cover his brother’s corpse. He said, “Woe to me! I was unable to be like this crow, and bury my brother’s corpse.” So he became full of regrets.’ 5:31

    My question is, are there any similarities between human and crow funerals/burials? Also have you witnessed crow digging grounds/land?

    • Hi Shef! I know that passed well, we actually quoted it in one of our papers 🙂

      I wouldn’t share there are a ton of similarities between current crow and human rituals, other than that general social interest in the dead. I have never witnessed crows digging a grave and have not heard of others witnessing this either. I have however had people tell me they’ve seen crows placing various objects (mostly sticks) on dead crows though.

  4. Sam

    Hi Dr. Swift,

    There is a family of three American crows in my neighborhood and I observed one of them making some sort of rattling sound. It elongates its neck and turns its beak down, almost like it is about to throw up, and makes a guttural-like rattle. I feed them unsalted peanuts and kibble so not sure if that has anything to do with it. I also have a video but there’s no upload function 🙂

  5. Oh, I didn’t know just females did that. I thought both. I’ve had “conversations” with crows doing that “rattle”, a sort of vibrato call and I would respond, and she/he would do it again.

  6. Lexie

    Dr. Swift,
    I can’t tell you how incredibly happy I am to have found your site. Over the last few months I have become fascinated by crows and hope to read up on them as much as possible. I am currently living in Paris, France and have been feeding our feathered friends from my 6th floor balcony for several moths now. When I noticed one day a black mass hobbling outside my window I quickly went to see what it was. I was shocked to find an ENORMOUS crow… who, of course flew away at the mere sensation of me. I started by placing an egg in my flowerpot. They took awhile to come but eventually took the egg to eat somewhere else. Fast forward to today where one crow literally looked me in the eye and then ate the egg, although quite cautiously in front of me.

    I suppose I am posting here mainly because I am excited to see that there are others who find these « menaces » so incredible, but also to ask… is there anything else I can offer them? I have seen your response about appropriate foods and …feel kind of silly asking, but could I try to make a perch or some sort of birdhouse for them?

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read.
    -Lexie

    • Hi Lexie! Glad you are here too. So birdhouses are only used by birds that nest in cavities like chickadees, swallows, bluebirds, etc. Since crows make “open-cup” nests just in trees, they have no use for a bird house. That said, I’m sure they would appreciate a feeding platform if you are so inclined to make one. Just a flat, open platform will do. Good luck!

  7. Hannah Beaugh

    Hello Dr. Swift! I’m currently listening to you episode of the Ologies podcast. As soon as I heard that you got your masters degree in animal behavior and ethology, I got extremely excited. I’m currently researching graduate schools, looking to get my Masters in the same thing. I couldn’t find this degree program on the University of Washington’s website, so I was hoping I could get some information from you on what path you took to get this degree, and any advice you might have. Please feel free to reach out to me through email, and I can give you some more details about my situation. Thank you!

  8. Denise DeLaFontaine

    Our neighborhood is in university place and we have a huge roosting area right next door on Leach Creek. They are fascinating to watch ever evening. . I’d like to put something about it in the next newsletter. Do you have any information specific to that site?

  9. Rajeena Snow

    I have all-ways been intrigued and captivated by the Corvids..i am not a young person anymore and now I find myself continuing my young journey..crows used to follow me home from school..always attentive..and at each juncture of my life they have persisted..to entertain and enlighten me by their ceaseless curiosity..as I think we all should be!..I would love to understand more….sincerely R. Snow

  10. Robbie Ophelia Prideaux-Strucke

    Hi! I just wanted to say that looking through your research has not only been fascinating but also inspiring! Even though what I want to do isn’t even slightly related to what you do, I’ve never felt so motivated before so I wanted to thank you for that! And I hope you have a wonderful day when you see this and I look forward so following you in the future!

  11. Dennis Emge

    Crows are one of the few animals (I’m told) that can recognize faces and usually never forget a face. One day not long ago I called my local animal control to pick up an injured possum. I told the animal control officer that the crows were making a big stink (a lot of noise). He said that crows will become quite noisy and animated when there is an injured animal nearby. I thought that was pretty cool that our feathered friends try to tell the world when another animal is injured. I’ve been fascinated with crow for sometime now. Cheers!

  12. Hey, “Cousin” Kaeli. As a glider pilot, I’ve always been fascinated by watching birds in flight – including the ravens in my part of Western Nevada! Several times, I have been surprised by hearing what I thought was a raven flying over, calling gently, and then being surprised when I looked up to see it was a dove! I’m wondering if this is a “mimic” technique that doves may use to spoof potential predators. Congrats on completing the Ph.D. and best wishes on your continuing research! -Gary B Swift-

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  14. Hi Kaeli, It’s been a while. Craig Gibson’s brother Dave here. This a.m., in Chesapeake, VA, I observed an American Crow(?) feasting on an Eastern Meadowlark. Here’s my Facebook post: ” This appears to be an American Crow (most likely) feasting on an Eastern Meadowlark (most definitely). I believe the meadowlark was a live bird, not a dead one. If so, this would be an unusual occurrence, an outlier. You photographers out there…I exposed for the meadowlark, not the crow. Would love your thoughts. After I took the photo, I headed home.” Kaeli, would love YOUR thoughts.

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