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Corvid Neuroscience
Meet the Scientist
  • Link to post on Instagram

Greetings intrepid sushi science fans! My name is Kaeli Swift (@corvidresearch on IG), and I recently received my doctorate from the University of Washington where I studied how American crows respond to their dead and what might motivate their different responses. Through the various field experiments I conducted, we now know that crows show variety of different responses towards dead crows including alarm calling, gathering, and various kinds of touching. In addition, it seems the intensity of their response is influenced by context.

Science Snack

To understand the neurological basis behind these different responses, we conducted a functional neural imaging PET study to test what parts of their brain is active when they see a dead crow. We used PET instead of the more familiar MRI because functional MRI studies require that the subject be awake while in the

scanner, something that would never work with a crow! But by using FDG-PET we could retroactively look at the brain activity while the bird was awake and looking at the dead crow 20min ago, even though now it’s asleep in the scanner. The best part is that the birds were returned to the wild once the study was completed..We looked for activity specifically in the amygdala which is related to fear learning and emotion, the hippocampus which is related to fear learning, especially spatial learning, the NCL which is responsible for executive decision making, the septum which is affiliated with conspecific recognition, and the stratum which is affiliated with mediating behavior, particularly

sushi science brains crow

aggression. Our findings will soon be under peer review but until the I’m afraid my lips are sealed about our specific conclusions. Follow me to learn more about crows (and play IG’s most fun game: #CrowOrNo) and be among the first to know our findings once the paper is out. 


[1] Swift KN and Marzluff JM. (2018) Occurrence and variability of tactile interactions between wild American crows and dead conspecifics.  Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 373: 20170259

[2] Marzluff JM, and Swift KN. (2017).  Connecting animal and human cognition to conservation.  Current Opinions in Behavioral Science 16: 87-92. 

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