No Tittering of Mourning Magpies

Magpies Hold Funerals for Fallen Feathered Friends
Lester Haines, The Register (October 21, 2009)

Animal Emotions, Wild Justice and Why They Matter: Grieving Magpies, a Pissy Baboon, and Empathic Elephants (paid access only)
Marc Berkoff, Emotion, Space and Society (August 27, 2009; doi:10.1016/j.emospa.2009.08.001)

Reporting on an unfortunately toll-access article from the journal Emotion, Space and Society, Lester Haines at The Register relays the claim that magpies appear to hold rituals for dead pals:

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.”

Similar behaviors have been observed in other magpies, as well as in ravens and crows. Unfortunately The Register article is brief and the real deal’s under lock and key (well… $9.95). Several readers have weighed in in the comments, however, and probably without reading the actual research, many dismiss the claim as bad science and overt anthropomorphism, an accusation Beckoff has previously countered with, “It’s bad biology to argue against the existence of animal emotions.”

Hear, hear! (Full disclosure: I am closing in my 10-year anniversary as a vegetarian.)

Then again, I do enjoy rigor in my rigor mortis research — I’d like to know more about it. As for the post title, I love animal / social group names. Everyone knows it’s a murder of crows, many, an unkindness of ravens. Magpies are a gulp, tiding or tittering. Tee hee! And no one would be laughing at a funeral. At least not these magpies.

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