[birding] Scrub-jay "funerals"

Nancy Clarke nclarke at croisan.com
Thu Dec 28 22:42:32 PST 2017


I have read research papers reporting this same type of behavior in 
crows.  My guess is that it may occur in all Corbids.

Nancy L. Clarke
On 12/28/2017 8:39 PM, Don Boucher wrote:
> Hello,
>
> During the first week in our current house, there was a dramatic incident
> with the scrub-jays in our back yard. I came running out to several jays
> making a panicked predator alarm calls. The jays were gathered in the
> corner of the yard, along the fence and in a lilac bush. I carefully walked
> over and found a dead jay under the lilac by the fence. It seemed like it
> was killed by a cat but I didn't see any cat nearby. After I left, the jays
> continued to call in distress over the dead jay, on and off, for a couple
> hours.
>
> The next day, a single jay sat quietly over the dead jay for quite a while,
> often looking at the body. We wondered if they were the dead jay's mate.
>
> Jays are territorial, but not strictly, and there are times when they
> gather together, like when there is an abundant foods source. They will
> also gather to mob predators, which is probably a factor in this case,
> because at least one other jay witnessed the cat attack. The one thing that
> is different than many other birds is that the jays remained, and expressed
> their distress, long after the threat of another attack was gone. It
> appeared, from my perspective, that they were commiserating.
>
> In another incident, many years ago in the morning, I was riding my bike
> slowly down 10th Street, looking for birds. A scrub-jay appeared suddenly
> on a utility pole cable stay, a few feed above the ground, and was
> screaming in the way described above. The jay was pointing its bill at the
> ground. When I stopped to take a look, there was a dead jay lying there. It
> was as if the jay died that night or earlier that morning and it was now
> just discovered. Within a minute or so, other scrub-jays came over and
> started screaming too. I watched this for several minutes but I couldn't
> stay to watch any longer.
>
> It doesn't make sense for me to say that such post-mortem jay activity is
> analogous to human funerals. But I do know this, other birds don't act this
> way. I've seen goldfinches feeding next to recently-deceased goldfinches
> like nothing was wrong at all. When a scrub-jay responds to a dead jay that
> they know, they are very upset about it, and that response can linger for
> more than a day. As a social animal, I can relate on some level.
>
> Don Boucher
>
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