Donate

Science

Western Scrub Jays Found to Hold Funerals for Fellow Jays

Listen to the audio:

Enlarge
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Funerals are a common human custom, but researchers at UC Davis say some birds hold funerals, too. They've found that Western scrub jays call other jays to the site of a fallen bird.

In a recent study, UC Davis researcher Teresa Iglesias observed that when a western scrub jay sees another dead jay, it lands nearby, "and then it’ll start to alarm call," she says.

Those calls attract other scrub jays, which collect around the body. That made Iglesias wonder: "Why are they doing this? This is obviously a place where a predator was successful."

Scrub jays are also normally territorial with each other, but Iglesias thinks the funeral is a way of communicating.

"They are using these guys as an indicator that the area is risky. That somebody got killed there, so be careful in this area."

Other species including elephants and chimps are also known to visit their dead. Iglesias says there’s a lot more to study about how animals recognize death.


 

Become a KQED sponsor

Follow KQED News on Facebook

Follow KQED News on Twitter

For the latest updates from KQED News, follow us on Twitter.