About Me


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.


576 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.

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