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September 20 2012

Birds of a feather flock together, even in death

How do birds react when a member of their flock dies? Apparently, for western scrub jays, commotion ensues.

These birds call loudly when they come upon another jay that is dead, attracting nearby birds, which often join in the noise. A team of scientists from UC Davis hypothesized that these “cacophonous aggregations” may function to warn other birds of potential danger. To test this hypothesis, the scientists tracked the response of the birds to a dead jay laying on the ground, and compared those with the birds’ reactions to three other stimuli: a stuffed and mounted jay, a stuffed and mounted great horned owl, and a neutral object that was somewhat similar in shape and color to a dead bird (painted pieces of wood).

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