You've Heard of a Murder of Crows. How About a Crow Funeral? | Deep Look

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They may be dressed in black, but crow funerals aren't the solemn events that we hold for our dead. These birds cause a ruckus around their fallen friend. Are they just scared, or is there something deeper going on?

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It’s a common site in many parks and backyards: Crows squawking. But groups of the noisy black birds may not just be raising a fuss, scientists say. They may be holding a funeral.

Kaeli Swift, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington’s Avian Conservation Lab in Seattle, is studying how crows learn about danger from each other and how they respond to seeing one of their own who has died.

Unlike the majority of animals, crows react strongly to seeing a fellow member of their species has died, mobbing together and raising a ruckus.

Only a few animals like whales, elephants and some primates, have such strong reactions.

To study exactly what may be going on on, Swift developed an experiment that involved exposing local crows in Seattle neighborhoods to a dead taxidermied crow in order to study their reaction.

“It’s really incredible,” she said. “They’re all around in the trees just staring at you and screaming at you.”

Swift calls these events ‘crow funerals’ and they are the focus of her research.

--- What do crows eat?
Crows are omnivores so they’ll eat just about anything. In the wild they eat insects, carrion, eggs seeds and fruit. Crows that live around humans eat garbage.

--- What’s the difference between crows and ravens?
American crows and common ravens may look similar but ravens are larger with a more robust beak. When in flight, crow tail feathers are approximately the same length. Raven tail feathers spread out and look like a fan.

Ravens also tend to emit a croaking sound compared to the caw of a crow. Ravens also tend to travel in pairs while crows tend to flock together in larger groups. Raven will sometimes prey on crows.

--- Why do crows chase hawks?
Crows, like animals whose young are preyed upon, mob together and harass dangerous predators like hawks in order to exclude them from an area and protect their offspring. Mobbing also teaches new generations of crows to identify predators.

---+ Read the entire article on KQED Science:

---+ For more information:
Kaeli Swift’s Corvid Research website

University of Washington Avian Conservation Laboratory

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