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Birds Hold Funerals for Their Dead

Birds Hold Funerals for Their Dead

By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery Channel

Funerals, by definition, are ceremonies honoring a dead person, but researchers have just observed what appears to be the avian version of a funeral.

Teresa Iglesias and colleagues studied the western scrub jay and discovered that when one bird dies, the others do not just ignore the body. Multiple jays often fly down to gather around the deceased.

The subsequent ceremony isn’t quiet either.

“Discovery of a dead conspecific elicits vocalizations that are effective at attracting conspecifics, which then also vocalize, thereby resulting in a cacophonous aggregation,” Iglesias and her team wrote.

This part of the response is similar to how the birds react when they see a predator, such as a great horned owl.

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The researchers explain that “all organisms must contend with the risk of injury or death; many animals reduce this danger by assessing environmental cues to avoid areas of elevated risk.”

The “funerals” therefore serve, at least in part, as a lesson. Since the birds don’t necessarily know what bumped off their feathered friend, they seem to focus more on the area, associating it temporarily with danger.

The researchers noted that the living birds tended to avoid foraging in the place where they found the deceased bird for a period of at least 24 hours.

Prior research suggests giraffes and elephants might also hold ceremonies for their dead. If so, perhaps there are shared factors with humans and birds. Solidifying group togetherness and social bonding appear to be key benefits, along with learning how to avoid (if possible) whatever did in the deceased.

The study has been accepted for publication in the journal Animal Behaviour.



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10:55AM PST on Feb 16, 2014


11:13PM PST on Feb 15, 2014

I'm pretty sure that science has proven that call someone a bird brain is no longer an insult.

11:04PM PST on Feb 15, 2014

Never knew that
Birds are so intelligent

6:45PM PDT on Mar 30, 2013

OMG I never heard of that. Thanks.

3:44AM PDT on Mar 30, 2013

Is this really "holding a ceremony"?

10:37PM PDT on Mar 26, 2013

That's something new......Never heard that before.

3:54AM PDT on Mar 25, 2013

Very interesting...always open to learn anything new:) did know about elephants and crows however..feel so strongly that no matter what the species, we all need to feel loved, accepted, many feelings that we all share that there isn't space to write it all down...

4:22PM PDT on Mar 22, 2013

G A R, thanks for all your stories. You are right, crows and their relatives are amazing birds, and very intelligent. (Lisa, jays are members of the crow family.)

I've heard a lot more stories about them as well. Read 'King Solomon's Ring' by Konrad Lorenz. The chapters about the jackdaws are wonderful!

10:17AM PDT on Mar 19, 2013


8:38AM PDT on Mar 16, 2013

I had only heard of this with crows. They are so very intelligent. Nice to know others do it, too.

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Thanks for sharing.

Interesting post. Thank you.


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