Why did you say it like that?!

Hi all, I have recently published my first 1st-author paper after years of hard work on my PhD thesis at the University of California Davis with Gail Patricelli and Richard McElreath.

“Western scrub-jay funerals: cacophonous aggregations in response to dead

I’m very excited about the attention the research is getting. Animal behavior in general is fascinating and I’m thrilled that so many are finding how scrub jays respond to their dead as interesting as I do. Unfortunately, given the current inaccessibility to published research by the public at large, most are not able to evaluate the information first hand. At most, I believe there is access to the title, abstract and some figures. While those that have read the abstract agree that the use of the word “funeral” in the title is not problematic as there is no hint of anthropomorphic treatment of the behavior, others are at least perplexed if not potentially offended by its inclusion in the title.

I would like to clarify that indeed, the word is only included in the title and there is no further assumption regarding the emotional or cognitive state of the gathering birds. This is an agnostic stance– not a refutation or a condemnation for considering such ideas. The problem is that current methodology does not allow us to explore these questions in a satisfying and conclusive manner. Otherwise, I’d be all over that!

I decided to include the word “funeral” only as a way to link this work to previous observations and reports of many other species reacting to dead fellows. Try googling “chimp”, “elephant”, “crow”, “magpie”, “bison” and probably many other animals followed by the word “funeral”. What you come across is a lot of interesting accounts about how animals respond to their dead. I chose the term “cacophonous aggregation” to denote this behavior in western scrub-jays. In the scientific literature, “ceremonial gatherings” was used to describe magpies’ response to a fallen fellow. I thought that even this term was too suggestive so I opted for a more descriptive and agnostic term as the label.

If you google “cacophonous aggregation” at most you may come up with a link to the abstract to my paper but you would be robbed of learning about all the other interesting stories out there about how animals react to their dead.


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