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Scientists Learn Why Birds Host Noisy 'Funerals' for Their Dead

"...used to reduce exposure to risk."

Researchers at the University of California-Davis have observed an interesting practice in the avian world: funerals.

Studying western scrub jays, Discovery News reports Teresa Iglesias and her colleagues found that when a fellow jay dies many with gather around it and issue loud cries. These squawks -- described as a "cacophonous aggregation" -- may not be in mourning though.

The researchers believe the birds are making an example of their comrade's death:

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 research published in the journal Animal Behavior also describes finding that the birds avoid foraging for food in the area near the dead bird for 24 hours. They were back at it within 48 hours though.

"Our results show that without witnessing the struggle and manner of death, the sight of a dead conspecific is used as public information and that this information is actively shared with conspecifics and used to reduce exposure to risk," the researchers wrote in the study abstract.

(H/T: Daily Mail)

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