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Cartoon: crows gathered in a circle around a dead crow. One of the crows says “I never know what to say at these things.”

Guess I’ll wear black.

Guess I’ll wear black. published on

There’s a phenomenon in natured called a “crow funeral.” A crow dies for one reason or another, and then other crows gather around the corpse and linger awhile. (I would personally fund a study to see if their calls sound anything like “Danny Boy.”)

And it’s not just a crow thing: Their fellow corvids, birds like jays and magpies, hold funerals for their dead, too.

It’s tempting to think of behaviors like this in human terms. We assume that the crows at a gathering like this are in mourning, the same way we assume that guppies that eat their young were sick of hearing them go on about Tumblr memes. These are understandable leaps in logic… but they’re often mistaken.

It turns out scientists believe there’s a simpler and somehow more sinister answer: They’re studying the death to learn about potential threats. Like a bunch of little feathered Sherlock Holmeses: “Observe, Watson, the pattern of the dents in the skull, and how precisely they match the grille of a Lexus LS.”

Actually, that impulse also feels very human — even if it leans a little more Castle and less Six Feet Under. Call it… Caw and Order. Although I can’t remember Sherlock Holmes or Kate Beckett ever getting quite as close to the victim as some crows get to the subjects of their corvicide investigations. (I’ll save you a click: there’s a certain amount of necrophilia in the crow community.)

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