A Western Scrub Jay on a branch of aphelocoma

NB:   I would not have used the word “funerals” in relation to birds, except that the journal Animal Behavior’s title for the article began with the words “Western scrub-jay funerals.”

Researchers studying the behavior of Western Scrub Jays were surprised by the cacophonous chorus the jays produced upon finding a dead conspecific (bird of same species) in their area.  Far from avoiding the dead bird, the jays stayed near the bird as their raucous calls drew in many more jays.

The calls and the congregating are similar to the birds’ reactions to the appearance of a predator in the area.

The researchers mounted a jay skin in an upright position and one prostrate on the ground.  The upright jay was aggressively attacked, having been assumed to be a living competitor.

The prostrate bird, however, elicited the same behavior triggered by finding a dead jay, including a decrease in feeding in the area for 48 hours, though mounted novel objects and jays didn’t affect foraging habits.

The study concluded that without witnessing the manner of death of a conspecific, the presence of a dead Western Scrub Jay becomes an occasion of loud vocalization to inform other jays of risks in the environment and to encourage cautious behavior to reduce individual exposure to risk in the area.

Sources:   Discovery News, September 5, 2012  and Animal Behavior     Study published in Animal Behavior,  August 27, 2012


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