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corvid thanatology (and other animals that mourn death)

November 21, 2019



noun, ornithology
a bird of the crow family ( Corvidae ); a crow.

the scientific study of death and the practices associated with it, including the study of the needs of the terminally ill and their families.

the crow family includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers. 
are they all affected by the deaths of other corvids/other birds/mammals/animals? 
who knows. 
but they have funerals. sometimes.
imagine seeing a dead crow on the side of the road or in a field or wherever, and then a crow flies down and sees that it's dead. do they know this crow? is it someone that was in their flock, or just a random dead crow in a field that they'd never seen before? keep in mind that birds in the crow family are as intelligent as primates. uswe are primates. dr. kaeli swift is an avid wildlife researcher and corvid specialist, and she's analyzed crows and ravens in the past.
one experiment she was trying to keep controlled involved her having to figure out where each raven she was studying was nesting in a certain area in downtown seattle. there was a pair of ravens that were building their nest, and she'd thought that she successfully found their nesting area.
turns out she was wrong, and the ravens were (probably) purposefully messing with her, because they (probably) knew that she was trying to study them. 
if that isn't a good enough example for you, then that sucks.
so, corvids are smart as hell. 
there are a variety of things that can happen when crows see one of their dead.
they'll either fly down and call other crows, then have a whole funeral where they do something sentimental that makes emotional people cry like babies, and the bird nerds (birders) are probably already looking up the anatomy of a corvid's brain and writing up a research paper.
alternatively, they'll tear the feathers off of the dead crow and act all metal and goth because, honestly, when aren't they.
or, usually during their breeding season, they'll try to mate with the dead crow.
yes, you read that right. do i know why?
anyway, another animal that grieves for their dead are elephants, who are also very intelligent animals. both crows and elephants pass the mirror test, which basically means that they can recognize their own reflections, rather than thinking, "oh, this is a different animal that looks exactly like me but different. i'm going to fight it."
from basic research, it doesn't seem like scientists fully understand the mourning capacity of elephants, but they definitely have a reaction to seeing an unmoving corpse that was alive and moving with them not very long ago.
so, sad, but extremely interesting in terms of scientific study.
finally, chimpanzees. they've also been recorded in "mourning" when they discovered the dead body of a friend. "for 20 minutes, the chimpanzees quietly gather around their friend, despite offers of food to tempt them away. they gently touch and sniff his body, with chimps who were closer friends with the deceased appearing to be the most upset. / an older female chimp then attends to the dead ape, tenderly attempting to clean his teeth with a stem of grass."
and that's just an excerpt from the article i looked at. just look up "chimpanzees mourning death" and you'll probably find the same article around there somewhere.
but yeah. i just wanted to share that there are other animals out there who mourn inner-species deaths. or they at least have the capacity to understand that, when an animal of the same species is unmoving and unreactive to any sorts of physical contact, etc., something is undoubtedly wrong.
we need to give animals more credit. they go through some shit, y'all.


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  • November 21, 2019 - 8:05pm (Now Viewing)

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1 Comment
  • HelpMe512

    Wow this is super interesting! I love how you wrote in a way that I learned something but was also entertained :)

    4 months ago