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U Washington grad student studies crow understanding of death

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Key excerpts from the article:


Kaeli Swift has been running these experiment as part of her doctoral research at the University of Washington, under the guidance of John M. Marzluff. Dr. Marzluff and other experts on crow behavior have long been intrigued by the way the birds seem to congregate noisily around dead comrades. Dr. Marzluff has witnessed these gatherings many times himself, and has heard similar stories from other people.


To study the phenomenon, Ms. Swift began by delivering food to a particular spot each day, so that the crows learned to congregate there to eat. Then a volunteers would approach the feast with a dead crow. Almost every time, the crows mobbed the corpse-bearing volunteers. The reaction was much less pronounced when the volunteers carried dead pigeons. 


In addition, in the days after seeing a volunteer with a dead crow, birds took significantly longer to approach food. The sight of a dead pigeon had no such effect.

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