Relating animal behaviors to human behaviors? Exercise caution.
Birds Hold Funerals For Their Dead, trying to draw the link between birds and humans at Discovery News:
The “funerals” therefore serve, at least in part, as a lesson. Since the birds don’t necessarily know what bumped off their feathered friend, they seem to focus more on the area, associating it temporarily with danger.
The researchers noted that the living birds tended to avoid foraging in the place where they found the deceased bird for a period of at least 24 hours.
Prior research suggests giraffes and elephants might also hold ceremonies for their dead. If so, perhaps there are shared factors with humans and birds. Solidifying group togetherness and social bonding appear to be key benefits, along with learning how to avoid (if possible) whatever did in the deceased.
See that bolded part? It’s not incorrect to say that both humans and birds are dependent on social bonding, but funerals serve the same purpose as birds gathered around their dead? Scratching my chin there. Then there’s this …
“Do Birds Hold Funerals?”, discussing whether the word is appropriate at NPR:
For instance, they presented the birds with a novel object made of wood, approximating the form of a dead scrub-jay, and some days later presented them instead with the actual skins (plus feathers) of dead jays. The birds never called or formed cacophonous aggregations in response to the wood object, but they always called at the skins, and almost always these callings escalated into noisy gatherings.
In other words, the birds tell each other about a dead companion, and so individually and collectively the scrub-jays may learn something about predation risks. By calling in others (the cacophonous aggregations), they may be more likely to drive a predator away or to warn relatives and mates of danger.
Where is the funeral promised in the title?
I know some people may think this is splitting hairs, but the way that a story like this is delivered, down to the words chosen to explain it, are crucial to what lesson gets taught. So birds gathering around the remains of their dead is important, biologically. In fact, it’s an awesome story on its own. It shows that evolution has provided them a way to learn from what killed their relatives, strengthening their social structure and improving their odds for survival. But does it have anything to do with the emotional, elaborately ceremonial funeral customs practiced by myriad human societies?
That idea’s dead on arrival.
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