Current Research

A synopsis of my research for those that have seen me in their neighborhood, curious friends and family, or other crow watchers.

For humans, the discovery of a dead member of our own species (i.e conspecific) is an obvious and alarming indication of danger.  It seems intuitive therefore, that other animals would, for this or other reasons, take the discovery of a dead conspecific as meaningful.  Yet, very few animals respond to their dead in any observable or quantifiable way.  Those that do, such as elephants, dolphins, apes or crows, therefore provide a rich source of both curiosity and possible insight into our own evolution as humans.

Crows have long been reported to respond to their dead.  Reports often come in that people have filmed or observed large, loud or quiet gatherings of crows around the body of a deceased individual.  I’m interested in why this behavior exists.  Although there’s a number of ways we can explain it, and each explanation is not necessarily mutually exclusive, I’m primarily interested in if “funerals” are used as a tool of danger learning both in regards to the place they observed it in and also any people they saw associated.

To do this I locate a nesting pair via behavioral cues I’ve learned through observations, and establish a feeding site a certain distance away.  If you’ve ever come across a large mess of peanuts and Cheetos it’s likely part of one of my studies.

An example of one of our masks holding our dead crow.

An example of one of our masks holding our dead crow.

Then I introduce our scary scenario to the birds; a masked person with a taxidermy hawk or crow.    This is usually the event that gets the most attention.  I can understand why, in an effort to make the masks as realistic as possible they have a distinct Hannibal Lecture quality about them.  Not to mention the birds are often going nuts, which only adds to the chaos of the whole scene.

Following this stimulus day, the bulk of the experiment wraps up within the next week but you may continue to see me for up to 6 weekly visits.

Photo: Michael Werner, Michael Werner Inc

Photo: Michael Werner,  Werner Media,  Inc



3 responses to “Current Research

  1. I saw a dead magpie on the street behind my house two days ago while walking. This morning I heard a lot of commotion in a huge tree in the field behind my house (100 or so feet from the dead magpie) where crows, magpies and pigeons usually gather. Crows were swooping in and out of the tree and the noise was really loud. I couldn’t discern any magpie noises though. Have you ever known crows to exhibit this behaviour towards magpies or other members of the corvid family?

    • Hi Vincent, looking at interspecific funeral behaviors between corvids is not something we’ve formally tested yet. I wouldn’t be surprised though if the crows heard the magpies scolding and joined (perhaps oblivious to the cause) as that is something I have seen before with crows and jays. Whether crows would spontaneous scold, however, if they found a magpie body that was not already being responded to by magpies is another question, and one that deserves a look!

  2. Gabriella

    I found this documentary on YouTube about crows and some research on them.

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