Feeds

Magpies hold funerals for fallen feathered friends

One for sorrow

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

A University of Colorado scientist has claimed that magpies hold "funerals" for fallen friends, demonstrating that they're all a lot more touchy-feely than they might appear.

Dr Marc Bekoff observed four magpies alongside a fallen comrade, and recounted: "One approached the corpse, gently pecked at it, just as an elephant would nose the carcass of another elephant, and stepped back. Another magpie did the same thing."

"Next, one of the magpies flew off, brought back some grass and laid it by the corpse. Another magpie did the same. Then all four stood vigil for a few seconds and one by one flew off."

He suggests in the journal Emotion, Space and Society (payment required): "We can't know what they were actually thinking or feeling, but reading their action there's no reason not to believe these birds were saying a magpie farewell to their friend."

Publication of his findings prompted others to tell Bekoff they'd seen the same ritual in magpies, ravens and crows. Bekoff dismissed the idea that such observations were merely cases of anthropomorphism, and defended: "It's bad biology to argue against the existence of animal emotions."

Bekoff cited a further example of animal empathy among a herd of elephants in Kenya, where one cow elephant was having trouble keeping up with her comrades. He explained: "Despite her disability the rest of the herd walked for a while, stopped to look around and then waited for her to catch up. The only obvious conclusion we could see is the other elephants cared and so they adjusted their behaviour."

None of this will come as a surprise to regular Reg readers, who already know that sheep pine for absent friends and cows bear grudges. Neither bovines nor ovines have been observed to hold funeral rites, but we suspect there's probably not much time for such niceties down at the abattoir. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.