Podcast

A Funeral for Crows

It's not just about mourning a fellow corvid.

This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

American Crows flock together in what is called a "murder" at Castle Rocks, Idaho. Photo: Wallace Keck/Great Backyard Bird Count

Do crows have funerals? We asked author Tony Angell, who with Professor John Marzluff of the University of Washington, wrote the book Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans. Here’s Tony:

"A crow 'funeral' is in general, where the deceased bird is surrounded by members of the same species, in significant numbers…"

"At a crossroads, I watched a crow had been hit by a car, laid to rest there on one side of the street. Crows descended from the trees, probably a hundred crows. In groups of maybe eight, ten, twelve, they would walk around that individual that was on the ground. And then they would fly off, and over a fifteen, twenty-minute period, eventually all the crows flew off, leaving that corpse of the crow in the road."

"Well what’s going on here seems to be a little more complicated than just paying homage. It’s very likely that the crows are learning from this experience. Is there danger here? Is there territory now opened up with the death of this crow? Is there a mate available, where before, there wasn’t? So all kinds of things are learned."

More stories of corvid intelligence can be found at birdnote.org.

Bird sounds are provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.A. Keller. 
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Interview by Chris Peterson

© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org     February 2015     Narrator: Mary McCann

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