Western scrub-jay funerals: Cacophonous aggregations in response to dead conspecifics

T. L. Iglesias*, R. McElreath, G. L. Patricelli

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    23 Citations (Scopus)


    All organisms must contend with the risk of injury or death; many animals reduce this danger by assessing environmental cues to avoid areas of elevated risk. However, little is known about how organisms respond to one of the most salient visual cues of risk: a dead conspecific. Here we show that the sight of a dead conspecific is sufficient to induce alarm calling and subsequent risk-reducing behavioural modification in western scrub-jays, Aphelocoma californica, and is similar to the response to a predator (a great horned owl, Bubo virginianus, model). Discovery of a dead conspecific elicits vocalizations that are effective at attracting conspecifics, which then also vocalize, thereby resulting in a cacophonous aggregation. Presentations of prostrate dead conspecifics and predator mounts elicited aggregations and hundreds of long-range communication vocalizations, while novel objects did not. In contrast to presentations of prostrate dead conspecifics, presentations of a jay skin mounted in an upright, life-like pose elicited aggressive responses, suggesting the mounted scrub-jay was perceived to be alive and the prostrate jay was not. There was a decrease of foraging in the area during presentations of prostrate dead conspecifics and predator mounts, which was still detectable 24. h later. Foraging returned to baseline levels 48. h after presentations. Novel objects and mounted jays did not affect foraging. Our results show that without witnessing the struggle and manner of death, the sight of a dead conspecific is used as public information and that this information is actively shared with conspecifics and used to reduce exposure to risk.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1103-1111
    Number of pages9
    JournalAnimal Behaviour
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


    • Aphelocoma californica
    • Bird
    • Cacophonous aggregation
    • Cues of risk
    • Dead conspecific
    • Response to dead
    • Risk assessment
    • Western scrub-jay


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