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Grieving Rituals Show Animal Compassion

(BIRD SCIENCE) Some species of birds have their own way of honoring the dead according to new research. Scientists discovered that when a western scrub jay dies, other jays will gather round the individual and make noise. The funeral-like behavior also serves as a warning against whatever danger might have killed their friend, and the birds tend to avoid the place for the next 24 hours. And this isn’t only a bird phenomenon. Recently a grief-stricken giraffe refused to leave her dead baby’s side, reminding us that many animals have the capacity to feel the same emotions as humans. Read on to find out more about bird funerals.—Global Animal
800px Joshua Tree   Western Scrub Jay   1b 400x266 Grieving Rituals Show Animal Compassion

The Western Scrub Jay. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Discovery News, Jennifer Viegas

Funerals by definition are ceremonies honoring a dead person, but researchers have just observed what appears to be the avian version of a funeral. 

Teresa Iglesias and colleagues studied the western scrub jay and discovered that when one bird dies, the others do not just ignore the body. Multiple jays often fly down to gather around the deceased.

The subsequent ceremony isn’t quiet either.

“Discovery of a dead conspecific elicits vocalizations that are effective at attracting conspecifics, which then also vocalize, thereby resulting in a cacophonous aggregation,” Iglesias and her team wrote.

This part of the response is similar to how the birds react when they see a predator, such as a great horned owl.

The researchers explain that “all organisms must contend with the risk of injury or death; many animals reduce this danger by assessing environmental cues to avoid areas of elevated risk.”

The “funerals” therefore serve, at least in part, as a lesson. Since the birds don’t necessarily know what bumped off their feathered friend, they seem to focus more on the area, associating it temporarily with danger.

The researchers noted that the living birds tended to avoid foraging in the place where they found the deceased bird for a period of at least 24 hours.

Prior research suggests giraffes and elephants might also hold ceremonies for their dead. If so, perhaps there are shared factors with humans and birds. Solidifying group togetherness and social bonding appear to be key benefits, along with learning how to avoid (if possible) whatever did in the deceased.

More Discovery News: http://news.discovery.com/animals/birds-hold-avian-funerals-for-their-dead-120905.html#mkcpgn=rssnws1

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