Australian Raptors carry burning twigs to set fires, flush out prey

Discussion in 'Australia' started by basquebromance, Jan 27, 2018.

  1. basquebromance
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    basquebromance Diamond Member

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  2. depotoo
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    depotoo Platinum Member

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    Yeah, amazing. They say it could also be a form of fire control, as well, by the birds. And they say aborigines having been saying for ever.
    From the article-

    Australian Aboriginal lore is replete with references to birds carrying fire, and some traditional ceremonies even depict the behaviour. Now ornithologists have collected accounts from witnesses across the savannas of Australia’s far north, known as the Top End, suggesting three Australian birds of prey species use smouldering branches to spread fires and scare prey into their waiting talons.

    Black kites (Milvus migrans), whistling kites (Haliastur sphenurus) and brown falcons (Falco berigora) all regularly congregate near the edges of bushfires, taking advantage of an exodus of small lizards, mammals, birds and insects – but it appears that some may have learnt not only to use fire to their advantage, but also to control it.

    “At or around an active fire front, birds – usually black kites, but sometimes brown falcons – will pick up a firebrand or a stick not much bigger than your finger and carry it away to an unburnt area of grass and drop it in there to start a new fire,” says Bob Gosford, an ornithologist with the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, who led the documentation of witness accounts. “It’s not always successful, but sometimes it results in ignition.”

    “Observers report both solo and cooperative attempts, often successful, to spread wildfires intentionally via single-occasion or repeated transport of burning sticks in talons or beaks. This behaviour, often represented in sacred ceremonies, is widely known to local people in the Northern Territory,” write the authors behind the find in the Journal of Ethnobiology...



    ...This is a “fascinating phenomenon”, comments Alex Kacelnik an expert on animal tool use at the University of Oxford in the UK, adding that “many species may have learned to respond to natural fire by escaping from it or exploiting it to hunt fleeing prey, but these hawks are showing a form of fire control.” This is the first he as heard of this in a non-human animals, he says.

    The behaviour adds to the evidence that birds are very good at “generating innovative solutions to foraging problems,” says Kacelnik, who speculates that the skill could be periodically rediscovered in different locations and then copied by younger hawks in the same population.

    Gosford says the next stage of their research will involve setting controlled fires with the help of Aboriginal land managers to try to capture the avian firebugs in action. “We are looking at gathering as much data on as many fire fronts as we can, and hope to record the behaviour on film.”
     
  3. IsaacNewton
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    IsaacNewton Gold Member

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    It would be interesting to see how far away from their own nests these birds fly to start fires. Also, how do they know these birds are not just removing these embers from near their own nests to get rid of a potential fire hazard.

    In any case the minute I see a falcon carrying a lighter or a pack of matches I'm out of here.
     

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