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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Chloe R.
Chloe R3 years ago


Sue H.
Sue H3 years ago

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

Chloe Mccausland
Chloe Mccausland3 years ago

Never knew that
Birds are so intelligent

Winn Adams
Winn Adams4 years ago

OMG I never heard of that. Thanks.

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B4 years ago

Is this really "holding a ceremony"?

D D.
De D4 years ago

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

Juta Semmel
Juta Semmel4 years ago

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...

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H.4 years ago

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!

j A4 years ago


Lisa Gray
Lisa Gray4 years ago

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