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.

 

620 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.

  15. Grant Colley

    Apparently, crows have chased away my beloved song birds (finches, chickadees, cardinals, titmice, etc) what can I do?

    • Without validating your assertion that the crows are responsible (because that’s rarely true) the best things you can do to encourage more avian diversity in your yard is to plant more native shrubs that offer cover and foraging opportunities, keep cats indoors, provide water, and make your windows more visible.

    • Bill Clarkson

      Crows are songbirds — they are classified and protected as such. They are very intelligent and sociablel You might find it rewarding to get to know them.

  16. Hello Dr. Swift, I remember reading in fascination your writing on crow necrophilia. How strange indeed and seemingly apart from and beneath the dignity of crow funerals, of which I have been privileged to observe. A few weeks back I was out for a stroll in our West Seattle neighborhood and was walking toward what seemed at a distance, a dead crow laying in a driveway. Before I could get closer to see, if indeed this was a dead crow, down swooped this large crow and he began the unmistakable copulation postures. Oh no! I thought this is really weird behavior! Then another crow flew down and started copulating postures with the first crow who flew down! Double weird indeed, but this gets weirder still as I was nearing toward them, they both flew up into a nearby tree, and I saw the “dead crow” wasn’t a crow at all, but some discarded shiny black gym shorts! LOL!

  17. Rebecca E Jewell

    Hi there
    On the island of Alameda in the San Francisco Bay, we have huge populations of crows. They roost communally, moving to different parts of the island every couple months.
    They wake neighbors up around sunrise each day with call and response-type yelling. It’s almost like a teacher telling a story to a group of children with rhymes. One or two birds will talk for a couple seconds followed by the whole hole group yelling for a few seconds, then back to one or two and the group. This goes on for 15?20? Minutes.
    But what’s really weird was last week when the whole tree erupted noisily at *midnight*! Yelling went on for another 20 mins in the darkness (well, it’s never “dark” here, it’s the near-in suburbs).
    Is any of this unusual for your experience?
    Thanks for your work!!

  18. Xhaphire

    Hello Kaeli,

    My mom recently passed away. On the day before her passing my sisters and I were walking through the local park which connects with the hospital my mom was staying in. We were reminiscing and talking when I looked up and realized that we were standing among about 80-100 dragon flies. They were dancing and playing around us and it was the most magical thing I’d ever witnessed! And although I felt a deep sorrowful dread come over me it was with these dragon flies that I also felt comfort come over me. I knew that my mother was going to pass away very soon but I felt like they were there to let us know that she wasn’t alone. That being said it was VERY shortly after that that a crow swooped down and landed on the sign I was standing RIGHT next to! It looked at me and I felt immediate dread. I have always believed, (though I’m not sure where this belief came from) that crows were a bad omen. That if a crow was to initiate direct contact with a human it was to foreshadow something awful was going to happen. So when it landed on the sign next to me and looked in silence at me appearing completely unafraid of me or the fact that we were so close to each other im not sure why but I felt it was a warning.
    In the days that followed, there had to have been almost a dozen or more instances where a crow landed VERY close to me and just looked at me as it to be trying to tell me something. One time I even came around the corner of a house I was visiting to find a crow sitting in the fence directly in front of me and it wasn’t startled by me suddenly appearing in front of it at all!! In the past my experience has always been that crows would flee if I got too close or if I saw someone try to approach one. So why now do they seem to be unafraid of me being so close to them and it seems they even seek out my company!? And are they a bad omen??

    • Hi Xhaphire, I’m very sorry to hear about your mother. Crows are not a bad omen. In many cultures they actually signify love and prosperity. Crows are just animals being animals, and whether you enjoy noticing them or not is entirely up to you.

  19. Dave Sartor

    Hello Our neighbourhood crow family (mamma and poppa toes) have lost their second baby this summer Now momma toes is acting like a fledgling .She sounds like a baby demanding food and flapping her wing like a baby Poppa toes is feeding her like a baby Seems weird Any insights Thanks Dave in Vancouver BC

  20. Josh

    Hi Dr. Scott, I read the article on here about the differences between the American crow and the common raven to try to determine whether ravens are in fact crows, and found what I think to be an implicit answer, but I’d obviously rather not misrepresent you. You wrote that there’s no distinct difference between ravens as a whole and crows as a whole and that there are many species named opposite what one may expect. As they’re part of the “crow family” would it be correct to say “ravens are crows” while specifying you’re comparing the groups rather than species such as how one would say Neanderthals are humans even though they aren’t the species immediately brought to mind upon talking about humans? Sorry for the long question and thank you for your time and expertise in the subject

    • Hi Josh, I’m happy to try and answer. But first a correction, it’s Dr. Swift, not Scott. I think it’s much less confusing and more accurate to say that “ravens are corvids”, and ‘are part of the family that includes crows”. This is but a small change in wording, but best captures the taxonomic reality of things.
      Cheers,

  21. Anne Kanne

    Hello,
    We live along a green belt on the Seattle Eastside We have always had A LOT of birds, including crows. This summer there is a particular crow or crows who predate small birds and rabbits like never before. Is this a psycho crow, or could it be related to 1) so much construction, like for trains, or 2)the incredibly warm weather?

    • Hi Anne, it might just be really good at hunting live prey. For most birds this account for a relatively small portion of their diet, but if this crow has really honed its skills, then this offers and ideal source of food.

  22. Brian Arnzen

    I have a bathroom skylight. Crows bring nails and tap on it. Today I heard a tap, looked up. The crow appeared to swallow something, then carefully picked up his nail and took it with him. Do you know what they are doing? I also would appreciate links for advice on being a good neighbor to crows. Thanks

    • Hm. I do not. It would be quite interested to learn if they are actually using the nail to access some kind of food item. That would be an important observation indeed!

      As far as being a good neighbor the main thing is to keep cats indoors, keep any water resources cleaned, and don’t stare at them when they eat. It makes them nervous

  23. Ashley M Russom

    I saw a crow with white feathers on its chest today what does that mean?
    Malnutritioned? Juvenile? I live in California. Thank you

  24. Joey Shyloski

    Hello Dr. Swift, I remember reading in fascination your writing on crow necrophilia. How strange indeed and seemingly apart from and beneath the dignity of crow funerals, of which I have been privileged to observe. A few weeks back I was out for a stroll in our West Seattle neighborhood and was walking toward what seemed at a distance, a dead crow laying in a driveway. Before I could get closer to see, if indeed this was a dead crow, down swooped this large crow and he began the unmistakable copulation postures. Oh no! I thought this is really weird behavior! Then another crow flew down and started copulating postures with the first crow who flew down! Double weird indeed, but this gets weirder still as I was nearing toward them, they both flew up into a nearby tree, and I saw the “dead crow” wasn’t a crow at all, but some discarded shiny black gym shorts! Maybe this is more of a symbolic gesture, perhaps a way of defying death.


  25. Kate mooney

    Enjoyed your interview with Allie Ward!

  26. Lisa

    Hello Dr Swift, Firstly, go Bearcats! I’m originally an Oregonian and my mother and brother both graduated from Willamette which I see you went to for undergrad. I read some of your research on the disappearing NW crow, and found it very interesting. I was curious whether something similar may have happened with the Clarion Raven or Corvus corvax clarionensis, because I see it sometimes being mentioned but then it’s not mentioned anywhere like on eBird, etc. I live in San Diego now, and I am an eBird volunteer, and live in the city. I count lots of crows, and we’ve got ravens too, and where I am, it’s sometimes nearly an even split, with crows edging out the ravens more often than not. But my question has to do with some of the more confusing birds that I can never tell what species they are. E.g, the Clarion raven, or if that might be what I’m seeing. I read they’re sort of closely related to the Chihuahuans, and I think that is probably true because this last weekend for Big Bird Day I was walking along the Embarcadero and heard a corvid making a weird loud clicking noise, and looked up and saw this big fluffy black bird that had really long shaggy feathers and tons of shaggy white feathers on it’s inner neck when wind blew on it and also on side of it’s head. I thought, oh, raven, because it was making noises like a frog, had a long beak, but was pointy like a crows, but big, and the nose hairs went pretty far down the beak. The sun was in my eyes but I could see it had very shaggy feathers. However, when i got home and looking at the photos, I noticed that when the feathers were blowing in the wind all it’s under feathers were a bright thick solid white. Basically like Chihuahuan ravens have. I then saw a tourist had posted a photo of a Clarion raven while on vacation in Mexico Ref: https://shadetreeimaging.com/gallery/common-raven/#&gid=1&pid=11 and I wondered if that’s what I saw since I saw a study from about 100 years ago talking about them being in San Diego, but that’s all I can find other than random mentions of them here and there like in this person’s blog. Anyways, I just read your article about the disappearing NW Crow so wondering if you may know if something similar happened with this Clarion Raven. By the way, love your blogs, I always refer to them for my guidance for corvid info, so really appreciate all the posts you’ve written! Thanks, Lisa in San Diego

    • Hi Lisa, after a search through AOS, Clements, and Avinet what I can gather is that this subspecies hasn’t been formally recognized since the 80s. So yes, it might have gone the way of the northwestern crow, and eventually lost any genetic or ecological distinctiveness that merited it being called a subspecies.

  27. Marie M.

    I’m a taxonomist so I love your “crow or no” exercise on Twitter. Well, I’m a nobody in science but I love sorting specimens, examining their form and guessing their lifestyle just by looking at their morphology. It’s my absolute favorite thing in the world. I’m also into affordable science—novel research questions that don’t need a big budget and complex equipment.
    I love your story about you struggling in school as a kid and still ending up being a successful scientist—being able to pursue your interest and curiosity. I follow you and several other women scientists on Twitter who had similar struggles. I just want to say, you inspire me.

  28. matthew WL Biol

    I poked around your information—but nothing caught my eye about the harmful impacts of feeding corvids, supplementing their diet during lean times or a surplus for greater reproductive success (more offspring). The harmful effects are those that cascade through the local avian community since corvids are notorious for egg robbing, predating nestlings or fledglings, harassing breeding/incubating/foraging adults of other species—and so on. Please show me where u might address such local conservation issues. Thanks.

    • Hi Matthew, I don’t have any specific articles about feeding crows, namely because while over surplussing crows can have the effects you describe, there’s just not enough people doing it to have an impact at the population level (for crows or their prey species). To put it in perspective, Americans spend about 4 billion dollars annually feeding wild birds, and only a small fraction of that number accounts for peanuts. The majority is on bird seed and suet-items not really target towards crows. I do have an article on the impacts of crows more generally though that you might be interested in. You can find it here: https://corvidresearch.blog/2014/06/20/do-crows-reduce-other-songbirds/

  29. Kim Colin

    Hi Kaeli

    I stumbled online upon your pod cast contribution at Alie Wards Ologies. Now I’m wondering if crows from different parts of the world have different dialects, cultural behaviour and habits or if they kinda run the same basic programming. How different can it get? And is there even any comparative research on this?

    Best regards from Switzerland (where no one shares the same dialect with anyone 😆)

    • Hi Kim, yes they most certainly do! Namely because there are different kinds of crows in different parts of the world (just like there are different kinds of cats-lynx, tigers, pumas, etc.). In your neck of the woods are hooded and carrion crows, which are very similar to each other, but quite different from say the Hawaiian crow or the Mariana crow. There is a great deal of information on the different crows species of the world. There are some great resources on this like Cornell’s Birds of the World online database (which is a fee-based subscription), or if you’re interested in a hardcopy, this book by Madge and Burn will give you lots of the information you might be looking for: https://www.nhbs.com/crows-and-jays-book

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