Western scrub jays hold what we would call funerals when they encounter a dead member of their species. Teresa Iglesias and colleagues from the University of California at Davis noted that jays, on seeing a dead bird, gather around it; in the journal Animal Behavior, they write that this behavior may have evolved from needing to warn other birds of dangers.
The scientists conducted experiments in which they placed a number of objects into residential yards and observed how the jays reacted. The objects included different colored pieces of wood, dead jays, mounted stuffed jays and great horned owls.
The jays were indifferent to the wood. They gathered together and issued alarm calls on seeing the mounted horned owls, apparently because they thought they were predators. They sometimes mobbed the stuffed jay, a behavior displayed when seeing a competitor or a sick bird.
But their behavior towards the dead birds was the most significant. Not only did the jays issue alarm calls to warn others far away, but they stopped foraging for food for days. As the BBC explains, after finding the dead bird,
The jays then gathered around the dead body, forming large cacophonous aggregations. The calls they made, known as “zeeps”, “scolds” and “zeep-scolds”, encouraged new jays to attend to the dead.
The scientists wrote that just the sight of a dead bird was enough to make the jays seek to share this information to warn other birds of possible dangers, even “without witnessing the struggle and manner of death.”
Jays are not the only animals who scientists have observed taking notice of their dead.
Photo by Eliya
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