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.
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.