Western Scrub Jay Birds Hold Funerals For Their Dead
Western Scrub Jays that live in breeding pair and are not particularly social birds have projected a peculiar behavior that captured the minds of the researchers from the University of California, Davis.
You will be amazed on knowing that the western scrub jays summon others to screech over the body of a dead jay. And the bird's cacophonous funerals last for up to half an hour.
"The anecdotal report states that other animals, including elephants, chimpanzees and birds in the crow family, react to dead of their species," said Teresa Iglesias, the UC Davis graduate student who carried out the work. "But few experimental studies have explored this behavior."
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This interesting study that was published in the Aug. 27 issue of the Journal Animal Behavior, was led by Iglesias and her colleagues.
"They're really territorial and not at all friendly with other scrub-jays," Iglesias said.
In order to encourage visits from jays, Iglesias set up feeding tables in the backyard of her homes. Then she videotaped their behavior when she placed a dead jay on the ground. She compared these reactions with the birds' behavior when confronted with a dead jay that had been stuffed and mounted on a perch, a stuffed horned owl, and wood painted to represent jay feathers.
On seeing a dead jay, prostrate on the ground, jays flew into a tree and began a series of loud, screeching calls that attracted other jays. The summoned birds perched on trees and fences around the body and joined in the calling.
She noticed a similar cacophonous gathering in response to a mounted owl but they ignored the painted wood. The moment they noticed a mounted jay the birds jumped on it treating it like an intruder.
Jays typically gathered within seconds of the first bird calling, Iglesias said. "If they did not, the first jay would often fly higher into a tree, apparently to call more widely. It looked like they were actively trying to attract attention."
"The purpose of the calls seems to be to alert other birds of danger," Iglesias said. "But why the calls summon others, rather than warning them off, is unclear. Having more jays present might mean more eyes to locate a predator, or more numbers to drive it away. There might also be a learning component to the gatherings, if they help teach young jays about dangers in the environment," she said.
"While reactions of animals to their dead are sometimes called "funerals," that does not imply that there is an emotional or ritual element to the behavior," Iglesias said. "We simply don't know enough about the emotional life of animals to understand that. I think there's a huge possibility that there is much more to learn about the social and emotional lives of birds," she said.