Questions About Crows? We’ve Got You Covered

Corvid researcher Kaeli Swift answers your questions about funeral practices, grudges, and other feats of intellect.

a black large-ish bird with its mouth open and calling while sitting on a branch against a yellowish-green background
Corvus corone (carrion crow). Credit: Cristian Gusa/Shutterstock

illustrated stack of books with text 'scifri book club'This story is part of our summer Book Club conversation about Jennifer Ackerman’s book ‘The Genius of Birds.’ Want to participate? Sign up for our newsletter or send us your thoughts on the SciFri VoxPop app.

Stretching all the way back to Aesop’s fable of the crow and the pitcher, corvids—a family of birds that include crows and ravens—are famously clever. New Caledonian crows have been observed using and making tools to collect insects, and certain species of crows can recognize human faces.

So, when the SciFri Book Club decided to read The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Akerman, we had lots of questions about these intelligent birdbrains. Kaeli Swift is a behavioral ecologist specializing in crows and other corvids at the University of Washington, and she spent two hours answering your questions about corvid behavior, from funerals to grudges to other feats of intellect, in a reddit AMA.  

Currently, Swift’s work focuses on what she calls the “cutest” corvid, the Canada jay. But previously, she spent years studying “the fascinating and macabre world of thanatology,” or death sciences. Swift has studied the funeral behaviors of American crows, why crows gather near the bodies of their own deceased, and what might drive their response. “Along the way,” she writes, “I found some pretty surprising things out about how and when crows touch dead crows. Let’s just say sometimes they really put the ‘crow’ in necrophilia!”

Read the full reddit AMA, and check out some highlights below.

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kaeli swift with a crow
Kaeli Swift. Credit: Kaeli Swift

angry crow perched in tree
A crow scolds in response to seeing the dead crow. Its calls will recruit other birds to the area to investigate. Credit: Kaeli Swift

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