Crows are birds with multiple abilities and behaviors, but nothing as unique and special as funerals for their deceased.
Death is as common in humans as it is in the animal world. There will be many things that differentiate us from animals, but death is not one of them. We all face death at some point in life; the difference is how we interpret its arrival. It was here that experts discovered that crows do funerals for an important reason.
Although funerals with crows are rare, this act is something already known. Different scenarios have been documented in which a crow lies lifeless, and, shortly after, several birds of the species gather around it.
All the visitors remain almost immobile, only contemplating the body. A few can gather or more than a dozen. The number doesn’t really matter, but rather the escort they can provide. Or at least that’s what is believed.
To understand the reason behind the crows’ funerals, biologists Kaeli Swift and John Marzluff, from the University of Washington, decided to experiment and find out what happens at these gatherings. It’s not a surprise that the behavior of crows is often explored; after all, they are birds that have been shown to have very particular abilities.
The why of the crow funerals
The first step to entering this act of mourning is to use crow masks. It would seem illogical to dress up to spy on birds. Yet, the reason for doing so is that crows recognize and remember faces with great precision. From that recognition, they determine who’s trustworthy and who isn’t.
The long memory of crows is something not to be trifled with, especially when different acts honor their memory. In this sense, to avoid a decades-long dispute with the crows, the biologists donned crow masks. Thus, the experiment began.
One of the volunteers approached with the body of a stuffed crow. Immediately, the flock attacked; this behavior can last up to six weeks after the event. The same action was repeated with a pigeon, and the crows' attention decreased by up to 40%.
Undoubtedly, the death of a crow leaves a strong impression on the rest of the specimens. But why is it? The reason is very simple. The loss of a crow is an opportunity to learn to survive. In a small instant, crows can determine which beings or situations are dangerous. They gather around the body to share information to protect the lives of other members.
Crow funerals are really learning moments, lessons in what caused harm and how to avoid it. Let's not forget that crows are consistent animals with advanced cognitive abilities. What to our eyes may seem like a funeral, for crows is an important life lesson.
Text and photos courtesy of Ecoosfera