[CT Birds] Crows May Learn Lessons From Death - The New York Times

Arthur Shippee ashippee at snet.net
Sat Oct 3 23:01:29 EDT 2015


Sussing out some of the remarkable stories about crows.  Full story on site.


http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/06/science/crows-may-learn-lessons-from-death.html

Crows May Learn Lessons From Death

In recent years, a peculiar sort of public performance has taken place periodically on the sidewalks of Seattle.

It begins with a woman named Kaeli N. Swift sprinkling peanuts and cheese puffs on the ground. Crows swoop in to feed on the snacks. While Ms. Swift observes the birds from a distance, notebook in hand, another person walks up to the birds, wearing a latex mask and a sign that reads “UW CROW STUDY.” In the accomplice’s hands is a taxidermied crow, presented like a tray of hors d’oeuvres.

This performance is not surreal street theater, but an experiment designed to explore a deep biological question: What do crows understand about death?

Ms. Swift has been running this experiment as part of her doctoral research at the University of Washington, under the guidance of John M. Marzluff, a biologist. 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.

“Whenever I give a talk about crows, there’s always someone who says, ‘Well, what about this?’ ” he said.

Dr. Marzluff and Ms. Swift decided to bring some scientific rigor to these stories. They wanted to determine whether a dead crow really does trigger a distinctive response from living crows and, if so, what the purpose of the large, noisy gatherings might be.

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