London: Scientists have discovered that when a North American bird species encounter a dead bird, they call out to one another, surround the body and stop search for food.
Researchers from the University of California found that the Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica), a species of scrub jay native to western North America often fly down to the dead body of a bird and gather around it, BBC Nature reported.
The behaviour may have evolved to warn other birds of nearby danger, researchers believe.
Teresa Iglesias and colleagues conducted experiments, placing a series of objects into residential back yards and observed how western scrub jays in the area reacted.
The objects included different coloured pieces of wood, dead jays, as well as mounted, stuffed jays and great horned owls, simulating the presence of live jays and predators.
The jays reacted indifferently to the wooden objects.
But when they spied a dead bird, they started making alarm calls, warning others long distances away.
The jays then gathered around the dead body, forming large cacophonous aggregations.
The calls they made, known as "zeeps", "scolds" and "zeep-scolds", encouraged new jays to attend to the dead.
The jays also stopped foraging for food, a change in behaviour that lasted for over a day.
When the birds were fooled into thinking a predator had arrived, by being exposed to a mounted owl, they also gathered together and made a series of alarm calls.
They also swooped down at the supposed predator, to scare it off. But the jays never swooped at the body of a dead bird.
The birds also occasionally mobbed the stuffed jays; a behaviour they are known to do in the wild when they attack competitors or sick birds.
The results show that "without witnessing the struggle and manner of death", the jays see the presence of a dead bird as information to be publicly shared, just as they do the presence of a predator, researchers wrote.
Spreading the message that a dead bird is in the area helps safeguard other birds, alerting them to danger, and lowering their risk from whatever killed the original bird in the first place, researchers were quoted as saying by the BBC.
Other animals are also known to take notice of their dead.
Giraffes and elephants, for example, have been recorded loitering around the body of a recently deceased close relative, raising the idea that animals have a mental concept of death, and may even mourn those that have passed.
The findings were published in the journal Animal Behaviour.
First Published: Sunday, September 02, 2012, 13:22