ONRC Evening Talk for Nov. 6: Crow Behaviors

Please join us at Olympic Natural Resources Center, 1455 S. Forks Ave., at 7 p.m. in the Hemlock Forest Room for a presentation by the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences’ doctoral student........

By Frank Hanson

Please join us at Olympic Natural Resources Center, 1455 S. Forks Ave., at 7 p.m. in the Hemlock Forest Room for a presentation by the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences’ doctoral student, Kaeli Swift. Swift works under the guidance of Dr. John Marzluff, professor of Wildlife-Habitat Relationships: Avian Social Ecology and Demography.

Swift has been interested in birds and animal behavior all her life. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in 2009, after which she spent several years doing field projects ranging from sexual selection in Satin bowerbirds, to bat fatality surveys at wind farms, to breeding success of the endangered streaked horned-lark in Oregon.

She is excited to share her enthusiasm and research that the emergence of corvids as a model system for questions about animal and social intelligence allows her to follow her passions. She believes her research study is very consistent of animals that live in social groups are known for having more advanced cognitive skills.

Her research follows that people have long reported observations of corvids (jays, magpies, crows, ravens, etc.) vocalizing and gathering around their fallen comrades and ritual-like “funerals.” Previous work had suggested that this may be a function of them understanding danger.

Her specific research dives deeper into this idea by looking at longterm changes in crow behavior following specific events and whether new predators (in this case people) can be inferred based on their proximity to dead crows.

The basis for her research is that crows, like a number of other animals that includes some primates, elephants, dolphins and other corvids, appear to perform ritualistic funeral behaviors once they discover a dead member of their own species. These behaviors can include touching, communal gathering, vocalizing or decreased play.

Swift believes that people who live or work closely with animals find it tempting to anthropomorphize these behaviors based on our subjective opinions. One of the naturalistic fallacies we fall into is often how smart or emotional we believe the animals we care about are.

As a research scientist Swift separates her personal feelings about animals and uses research techniques that allow her to objectively ask questions about animal behavior. She will share her conducted field experiments including employing brain scanning techniques. Her premise is that “crow funerals” either play a utilitarian purpose of learning about danger, social opportunities, or they just might be akin to the grieving process we experience as humans. The brain scanning technique her team of researchers use allow them to peer into the brain of a living, thinking crow without ever having to euthanize the animal.

Swift and her research have been featured in the mass media including on PBS, KOMO News, and Mother Nature Network as well as The New York Times and Peninsula Daily News.

Come join us for this fantastic presentation of research studies that provide bridges from humans to other animals that are critical to fostering a culture that respects and protects the natural world. No matter your feelings for them (corvids), nearly everyone has a story about crows.

The fact that they are conspicuous and thrive in all kinds of human-dominated environments means that crows are a uniquely accessible animal and they offer a wealth of opportunities to connect people of all interests and backgrounds to science.

It is Swift’s hope that her team’s research will provide a more compassionate lens with which to understand crows and contribute to a growing movement of corvid enthusiasts. When you join us on Friday, Nov

. 6, at 7 p.m. feel free to ask questions or share your own unique story.

“Evening Talks” at ONRC are supported by the Rosmond Forestry Education Fund, an endowment that honors the contributions of Fred Rosmond and his family to forestry, education and the Forks community.

Refreshments will be served and a potluck of your favorite dessert is encouraged. For more information, contact Frank Hanson at 360-374-4556 or [email protected] See you there!