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Birds using aerial bombing with firesticks to light fires and flush out prey

By Crikey! Birds are deliberately using fire as a tool. Humans are not the only animals on Earth setting things on fire.

Aerial arsonists are on the loose. Sneaky Australian raptors have been spotted picking up burning sticks, or even stealing them from a campfire and then deliberately dropping them on grass so they can feast on rodents fleeing from the fire. Apparently they do this in hunting packs, and will drop the burning stick half a mile away on the far side of waterways or roads. Aboriginal people have been talking about this for years, but no one quite believed it.

This really puts a spanner in the works of the fire management plans. So much for firebreaks.

Someone is going to have to get these birds to apply for permits.

Firehawk, Australia, Raptor, Fire.

Australian raptors can spread fires.  Credit: Bob Gosford

Australian Birds Steal Fire to Smoke Out Prey

Live Science, Mindy Weisberger

Three species of raptors — predatory birds with sharp beaks and talons, and keen eyesight — are widely known not only for lurking on the fringes of fires but also for snatching up smoldering grasses or branches and using them to kindle fresh flames, to smoke out mammal and insect prey.

Australian birds have weaponized fire

Dick Eussen thought he had the fire beat. It was stuck on one side of a highway deep in the Australian outback. But it didn’t look set to jump. And then, suddenly, without warning or obvious cause, it did.

Eussen, a veteran firefighter in the Northern Territory, set off after the new flames. He found them, put them out, then looked up into the sky.

What he saw sounds now like something out of a fairy tale or dark myth. A whistling kite, wings spread, held a burning twig in its talons. It flew about 20 metres ahead of Eussen and dropped the ember into the brittle grass.

And the fire kicked off once again.

All told that day, Eussen put out seven new flare-ups, according to a research paper published recently in the Journal of Ethnobiology. All of them, he claims, were caused by the birds and their burning sticks.

What’s more, the paper argues, the birds might well have been doing it on purpose.

Birds of Prey Deliberately Setting Forests On Fire

Science Alert, Peter Dockrill

According to the team, firehawk raptors congregate in hundreds along burning fire fronts, where they will fly into active fires to pick up smouldering sticks, transporting them up to a kilometre (0.6 miles) away to regions the flames have not yet scorched.

“The imputed intent of raptors is to spread fire to unburned locations – for example, the far side of a watercourse, road, or artificial break created by firefighters – to flush out prey via flames or smoke,” the researchers write.

Live Science:

Scientists recently collected and evaluated reports from Aboriginal and nonindigenous people of these so-called firehawks — black kites (Milvus migrans), whistling kites (Haliastur sphenurus) and brown falcons (Falco berigora)

The range of the birds’ reported fire stealing spans a significant area measuring approximately 1,490 by 620 miles (2,400 by 1,000 kilometers) across part of northern Australia, the scientists reported.

From their reports, a behavioral pattern emerged: Firehawks (also described as kitehawks, chickenhawks and, on several occasions by non-Aboriginals, s—hawks) purposely swiped burning sticks or grasses from smoldering vegetation — or even from human cooking fires — and then made off with the brands and dropped them into unburned areas…

Australia is such a highly evolved nation of fire,  the trees drop incendiary bark, plants are pyrophytic, the indigenous people did firestick farming, and even the birds are arsonists.

REFERENCE

Mark Bonta, Robert Gosford, Dick Eussen,Nathan Ferguson Erana LovelessMaxwell Witwer (2017) Intentional Fire-Spreading by “Firehawk” Raptors in Northern Australia, Journal of Ethnobiology Dec 2017 : Vol. 37, Issue 4 Special Section: Birds II, pg(s) 700- 718    https://doi.org/10.2993/0278-0771-37.4.700

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Birds using aerial bombing with firesticks to light fires and flush out prey, 8.7 out of 10 based on 85 ratings

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94 comments to Birds using aerial bombing with firesticks to light fires and flush out prey

  • #
    Paul

    I for one welcome our new winged overlords!

    160

  • #
    ivan

    Is there any hard evidence to support this like photographs of the birds in flight carrying fire? The photo in the article does not count, the fire on the ground is too advanced to be from a stick the bird just dropped.

    110

    • #
      Peter C

      Fair enough to be skeptical. I clicked on Jo’s link which gives the abstract and reference list of the paper. This seems to be a “hot” topic in ethnobiology at present.

      Several youtube videos carry the reports but no footage of a bird actually picking up a burning stick and then dropping it.

      90

      • #
        Yonniestone

        Over the years as few birds have given me the burnt end of the stick, this fire story could be hard to Swallow but without investigation no one can cry Fowl.

        110

      • #
        toorightmate

        NASA is doing a study of the birds which buy matches and then light them in dry scrub.

        70

      • #
        Ted O'Brien.

        The hawks certainly hang around where fires are burning. But I haven’t seen a hawk light a fire.

        I wouldn’t say it’s not feasible. It’s not hard to do, we used to do it when burning off, and the problem was to get the fire stick to the new site before it cooled too much. The bird’s speed through the air would enliven the embers to stay hot over greater distances. When stepping up to an industrial scale we used fire buckets and shovels.

        We call them the good old days. The way things are going you’ll soon have to get a permit to buy a box of matches.

        120

        • #
          Sceptical Sam

          I haven’t seen a hawk light a fire.

          You didn’t see Bob Keddie then, in 1971.

          They were the good old days.

          10

    • #
      Greg Cavanagh

      At the very least, the bird isn’t afraid of the fire. It is right over that little fire for a purpose (likely hunting).

      80

    • #
      Pop49

      There may be no photo’s of the fire raptors but there is another raptor in africa called the Lammergeier that drops bones onto rocks from high up, to shatter them so they can eat them. Dropping bits of burning material probably requires less skill, so it is highly feasable. I lived in the Northern Territory years ago and I’ve watched the Kites circling the many fires that occur in the spear grass every year. They ride the updraft from the fires waiting for something to make a break for safety away from the fire. Watch the video.
      https://www.theguardian.com/science/punctuated-equilibrium/2011/may/17/5

      50

      • #
        Pop49

        I’ve also witnessed sparrows flying infront of the censors on automatic doors in shopping centers so they can get inside to scavenge for scraps.

        60

        • #
          R2Dtoo

          In Thompson, Manitoba, ravens regularly sit on top of street lights and spread their wings over the light to turn it on during the day. They get the heat during very cold spells in the winter. Folks also take small rugs/blankets to the grocery store to put over their carts going to their vehicles. Ravens will pick off goodies (especially loaves of bread) from the top of the pile right in front of the pushers. Garbage can lids are no obstacle to ravens either, requiring heavy objects on top to keep the ravens out. Been there- seen that.

          20

      • #
        Asp

        There are birds that drop food on the surface of ponds to attract fish, which are the main course for the bird. The footage of this appears to be a more urban environment, rather than the wild, but it does show that birds can be inventive.

        40

    • #
      John of Cloverdale, WA, Australia

      You stole my fire.

      40

    • #

      I have seen this on a couple of occasions when passing bushfires near Broome. Kites were in large numbers swooping close to the flames looking for prey forced out of cover, with some picking up sticks and carting off to drop on un-burnt bush tens of metres away.
      During the dry season, hundreds congregate around the rubbish dump and the town, but disappear at the first sign of distant smoke.

      80

    • #

      Ivan, I too would like more photos, but apparently eye witness stories of these raptors carrying fire sticks are common across an area of 1000km x 2000km and by both indigenous and non-indigenous people. Also — the birds are well known (as Tom mentioned) to gather in large groups near fires to catch prey, so it doesn’t seem such a big leap, when an easy dinner is involved, for their firestick behaviour to be described as intentional. Though of course, we can’t know the motivation of a bird.

      We know lots of birds carry sticks, and we know these particular birds like fire. So it doesn’t require a big change in behaviour.

      As it is, I would think most birds of prey would not “gather” as a herd unless there was a bonanza on offer. So the incentive must be high. But it may be only certain sorts of fires that bring out this behaviour. Presumably if all the birds get a bonanza they might not bother with the risk of trying to continue the fire. It may be only small dying fires, or fires burning the wrong terrain, or when there are large flocks of predators….

      70

    • #
      James in Perth

      In North America, bears have been known to hang out on the fringes of wildfires to capture fleeing animals. So this phenomenon occurs in other parts of the world as well. Now the bears here do not start or spread the fires, but they know how to take advantage of them!

      10

    • #

      I have seen the black Kites in numbers just ahead of the firefront in the NT coming back from Kakadu. Stopped to take some pictures and watch. However, did not see the birds carrying any lighted material. The birds were too busy catching prey over a front of several kms beside the highway. The birds avoided the actual flames and were just in front or behind the flamefront. The birds would not want their feathers to catch on fire or else they would be victim for the ants.

      20

  • #
    Rereke Whakaaro

    Well the Conservation authorities are obviously going to do something about this – setting fire without a permit is a serious offense.

    They will probably look to engage hunters to cull these pesky raptors, on a bounty basis. Something must be seen to be done.

    I am joking …

    70

    • #
      Ian Hill

      What a perfect excuse to build more windmills. That’ll get those kites. Those birds are tough though. I hit one once doing 100kph near Katherine where it was feeding on roadkill. My windscreen was broken, complete with feather imbedded. It flew off, seemingly otherwise unharmed. I cursed myself for not slowing down early enough.

      Game enough to pick up fire? Yes, I can believe it.

      81

      • #
        Ted O'Brien.

        I saw a photo once of a Porshe which had middled a chook on an autobahn in Germany. A big hole in the middle of the windscreen, and mess in the back.

        50

        • #
          Ian Hill

          I guess the Porsche was going a little bit faster than my ’94 Ford Futura was capable of!

          I told the story to my three year old son and every time we saw a bird after that he said “dad, you nearly got a broken windscreen”!

          20

          • #
            OriginalSteve

            Good thing it wasnt an emu….forget the windscreen…the seats and occupants would be missing….

            20

      • #
        Ian Hill

        Don’t know why the red thumb and normally I wouldn’t comment, but I didn’t hit the bird on purpose. I recall blowing my horn from way back and every other such bird on that trip (eagles etc) flew off, but this one just stayed put. I would have slowed to about 70 and it started liftoff just soon enough to clear the bonnet. If not I would have had a big mess to clear from the grille. I drove back to Katherine and fortunately was able to get a replacement fitted immediately but there was a three hour wait after that for the installation glue to settle. That was in January 1998, just two weeks before those huge floods in Katherine.

        10

    • #
      Yonniestone

      The only solution is to build more wind farms as the existing ones aren’t effective in yet another aspect of them being there.

      Australia has made a start by ceasing production of the Falcon but more needs to be done!

      70

    • #
      Graeme No.3

      The other alternative is to enrol the birds as Auxilary Air Force. Should we be threatened then thousands of birds with flaming torches will be launched at the enemy.

      30

  • #
    michael hart

    OK, I’m impressed. But I’m going to wait for some more confirmation of wild animals not only being being not terrified of fire, but actually using it. It is a giant leap. Is there any evidence of lower primates also using fire? (and I don’t just mean global-warming scaredy-cats).

    90

    • #
      Ted O'Brien.

      Cattle don’t usually get caught in grass fires, unless the fire is very bad. Sheep, however, do. I once had a mob of about 20 Merino sheep caught in a fire. I saw them there in a timbered area with flames no more than half a metre high, mostly less, and I thought they would be OK. They only had to step over the fire to get away from it to safety on the burnt ground. However all of them were badly injured by the fire and had to be put down. It burned the hooves off their feet. They must have just stood there and let it burn them.

      60

    • #
      RexAlan

      Hi Michael, Kanzi a Bonobo in Africa has got fire making and using off to a fine art.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMbWDRzqNhc

      10

    • #
      William

      Lower primates Michael? I saw a photo in the paper of Bob Brown standing in front of his cottage in Tasmania some time back, there was smoke coming from the chimney so it is possible he lit a fire and was using it to warm the place up (while miraculously releasing no CO2 emissions).

      100

  • #
    Graham Richards

    I saw an article about a 15 year old “bird” that started one of the recent Melbourne fires.

    91

  • #

    There be dragons in the NT.

    40

  • #
    Another Ian

    They don’t start them (as far as I know) but out here if you want to know how many plains turkeys are in the area start a burn-off.

    60

    • #
      Graeme No.3

      If you want to know how many plain turkeys there are announce a new coal mine.

      180

      • #
        toorightmate

        I think the plain turkeys are dying out due to global warming – just like polar bears and penguins.
        No two ways about it – we are past the TIPPING POINT.

        The CO2 horsesh*t has to stop.

        50

  • #
    robert rosicka

    I’ve seen a doco on this that did show a kite picking up a smouldering stick and have heard of the kites doing it many years ago .
    We tend to not believe local indigenous beliefs preferring to believe scientists instead and look where that got us ?

    50

    • #
      ivan

      robert, as with all things in nature we should question everything. Not rely on scientists or beliefs but demand proof because unless there is hard provable evidence it is all hearsay.

      60

  • #
    Curious George

    Do birds have their own Prometheus now?

    30

  • #
    Macspee

    Maybe they’re friends with the crows that sit at traffic lights with a nut in their beak waiting for the traffic to stop and then pop onto the road and drop the nut in front of a tyre and wait on the foot path for the lights to change and the cars to crush the nut, or maybe with the crows that like to slide on their backs down snow hills and then go back up and do it again.
    That this is likely seems to me more so than not: you don’t need photographs if you have good witness statements, and not many firefighters are likely to risk pausing for a while to get out the phone and try to get a picture while the bird is flying away and the fire is approaching.

    60

    • #
      Jonesy

      ….not to forget, crows have worked out how to kill and eat cane toads. They flip the toad over onto its belly and then gut it. Clever birds!

      20

  • #
    Roger

    My partner and I witnessed this happening along side the highway out beyond Winton back in 2011. There was a small grass fire on the road edge and we stopped to watch the birds catching flying insects. Starting to move off we observed one particular bird actually landing on the burning ground. It tried several times to fly with sticks in it’s talons dropping them quite quickly. On about the 4/5 time it managed to pick up a larger stick that it manovered so that it was held with the burning end out in front of its beak. It flew up some 10 mtrs and forward maybe 40/50 then dropped the stick, hovering over the spot seemingly to see what effect.

    80

  • #
    Macspee

    Actually if you enlarge the photo the bird is clearly carrying a black stick that may well be hot enough to start a fire if dropped in the right place.

    20

    • #
      Peter C

      I think it is a cooked mouse.

      10

    • #
      Andrew McRae

      Jo has put a reduced size image there, but it takes only a few seconds with the right tools to find the original larger image.
      https://crikey-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs.dir/13/files/2011/06/Single-bird-13987.jpg

      It is actually from a Crikey story in 2011, which Jo has not linked to but it explains her opening exclamation.
      https://blogs.crikey.com.au/northern/2011/06/28/birds-of-the-week-firehawks-of-the-top-end/

      The original caption written by the photographer says “A Black Kite hovers in the flames.”
      The linked LiveScience article also uses a copy of that picture and gives it the caption “Fire-spreading has been observed in three species of raptors in the grasslands of northern Australia.” This caption is not literally saying that the photo is an example of this happening, but the casual reader may interpret it that way.
      Jo’s caption is going a bit too far in describing the photo as a real example of the alleged phenomenon.

      There appears to be a small black object in the bird’s left claw, but I cannot say if it is a burning object about to be used for arson or if it is the kite’s fresh and furry unlucky dinner. Hard to think of any plant parts that are perfectly round like that. My issue with it being any burning object is how the bird can keep holding it. It would be an unlikely co-incidence if it were a stick oriented directly toward the camera so that it appears to have a unstick-like small aspect ratio. Food seems more likely. The motion blur means that heads and legs on the object might not be discernible.

      The photographer’s description of the birds’ relationship with the fire was more passive:

      Snakes, Lizards and small ground birds caught at the fire front are burnt to crisp black morsels for the raptors

      Hordes of Kites and Crows flocked to these fires – roosting in trees to wait their turns to plunder the fruits of the fire.

      Gosford made no statement about any of the birds he photographed actually spreading the fire as he watched them, it’s just something he’s heard about. The other articles Jo has linked provide more recent evidence to support the claim.

      Many of the comments on the Crikey article are by the same author who conveys a potentially illuminating anecdote from a park ranger named Anthony Molyneux.

      I have watched numerous Black Kites and watched their behaviour when
      swooping down to the ground to pick up food scraps, reptiles etc….. if you
      watch this behaviour they snatch at the prey with their legs thrust forward
      and their legs are then propelled backwards as they continue their flight.

      They fly on briefly to see if there are any other kites that may steal their
      food (they are good pirates of food from other kites) and then look down to
      see what they have caught. If they have missed the prey and perhaps grabbed
      a stick, rock, etc……. they will then drop that stick or rock.

      Now translate this behaviour to a fire and if they missed the reptile and
      grabbed a stick (which may feel like a lizard??) and then realise they have
      missed they will then drop the stick. If the stick is smouldering or on fire
      it will then start another fire.

      From this behaviour they MAY have a learned behaviour or is it just good
      fortune rather than good management??

      I don’t have a definitive answer but above are my observations.

      Anthony Molyneux

      This is interesting because it creates the intermediate complexity event (or stepping stone) that a highly complex learned behaviour usually requires.

      40

      • #

        The original press release for this story (where I got the photo) is on LiveScience. The caption there is “Fire-spreading has been observed in three species of raptors in the grasslands of northern Australia. ”

        So I’ve clarified the caption to “Australian raptors can spread fires.” and I’ve linked the large photo.

        If you look at the photo, it may not show what the bird is carrying (which looks like nothing) but what it has just dropped. There is one large forked stick standing straight up, at a different angle to everything else growing in the field. Am I crazy, it seems outlandish, is that what the bird dropped? I would assume that a dead stick with burning leaves attached would not be too heavy for that bird to carry. Arguing against that, I would assume that Bob Gosford would have described that in the caption if that is what he saw, and a bird carrying such a spectacular flaming bundle would attract attention and a photo mid air. So probably not. Perhaps the bird dropped one of the smaller sticks, but then the fire is too big.

        They are going to set up controlled burns and watch to see if they can get photos. We will just have to wait.

        20

        • #
          Andrew McRae

          There is one large forked stick standing straight up, at a different angle to everything else growing in the field. Am I crazy,

          00

  • #
    Gary in Erko

    dropbears, hoopsnakes, pyrokites, torchhawks

    80

    • #
      Ted O'Brien.

      Hoopsnakes. They roll like a wheel at great speed.

      How fast can a snake move? On the lino in the kitchen not very.

      In my youth we used to kill snakes on sight. They were evil things. One day I saw a brown snake, about six feet long, crossing the road and stopped to get it, I was too slow, and it made it into the short grass and to a netting fence. The moment it got its head through the netting it was gone at right-angles along the fence. So, where they can get purchase, they can move very quickly.

      40

    • #
      Graeme No.3

      A couple of years ago my neighbours had a large gum tree “trimmed” and 3 magpie nests were removed. One of the nests had 2 pieces of chicken wire built into it. One piece of wire was about 15 cm. square and it was hard to see even a magpie flying with it, but obviously it had, and had bent it into a suitable shape. The tree cutter said it was fairly common to have finds like this in their nests.

      P.S. The tree has more than recovered in size. Might be something to do with all that extra CO2 available.

      40

  • #

    Birds contrary to popular belief are clever. I started feeding them a few years ago. Now they come and sit outside my patio doors until I replenish their food. That’s six pheasants,two woodpeckers, countless others and a heron. Heron only comes occasionally when all else fails.

    40

  • #
    RobK

    The only bit of the story that i find a little incongruous is that with a grass fire the birds would have plenty of fleeing prey to pick from. Why would they risk the hazards of starting a new fire when there is already one. Restarting one that has been put out makes more sense and could explain some instances of fires breaking out after they seem safe. Falcons and hawks definately like to hang around fires, working harvestors and hay mowers etc.for some easy pickings. An interesting angle.

    10

    • #
      Greg Cavanagh

      Ha!
      My magpies follow me around the lawn when I mow the grass.
      The Kookaburra sits on the back veranda under the awning while it’s raining.
      I’ve got some Currawongs that visit my yard too, they seem to be smarter than crows.

      20

    • #
      robert rosicka

      RobK the aboriginals only burnt small areas and patchwork in area so to keep the fire small and the birds may have learned the bigger the fire the more chance of a feed .

      There is a bird in Africa that acts like a guide to a tribe of bushman directing them to beehives in trees the payoff is the bird gets a feed of honey or bee larvae I can’t remember which .

      20

  • #
    Gordon

    I had a friend once who went out hunting. He shot a duck, seriously injured the duck made a kamikaze dive, struck and killed my friend. Believe me birds can be dangerous.

    :)

    ;

    30

  • #
    Extreme Hiatus

    I find this story EXTREMELY hard to believe for many reasons. If this happens as suggested there should be photographs or video of them doing this and when I see that – not just one iffy isolated event but methodical behaviour – I will certainly reconsider this possibility. I don’t think that day will ever come.

    01

    • #

      Other birds use tools. this is not beyond the scope of bird abilities:

      Corvids (crows, ravens and rooks) are well known for their large brains (among birds) and subsequent tool use. They mainly manufacture probes out of twigs and wood (and sometimes metal wire) to catch or impale larvae. Crows are among the only animals that create their own toys. Tool use in other birds is best exemplified in nest intricacy. Warblers manufacture ‘pouches’ to make their nests in. Some birds, such as weaver birds build complex nests. Finches and woodpeckers may insert twigs into trees in order to catch or impale larvae. Parrots may use tools to wedge nuts so that they may crack it open (using a tool) without launching it away. Some birds take advantage of human activity, such as seagulls which drop shellfish in front of cars to crack them open.

      Several species of fish use tools to crack open shellfish, extract food that is out of reach, cleaning an area (for nesting), and hunting. Octopuses gather coconut shells and create a shelter. They may also construct a fence using rocks.

      Crows can drop rocks in tubes of water to raise the water level far enough to get a worm. That would seem more of an intellectual leap.

      See also my answer here.

      Given the risk of burns by picking up hot sticks birds probably don’t do it for “fun”, nor would they do it if they were at a big fire and there were plenty of food offerings. So this takes a special set of conditions to happen, and unless a camera man is present, sees it, and has the camera trained on the bird (birds in motion being hard to zoom in on), the moment would go un-documented.

      Only recently has there been an explosion in Go-Pro type high res cameras, and these are mostly in cities. An ordinary camera, remote location, smoke, fast moving wildlife, and rarer behaviour make this hard to catch on film. When humans mostly don’t even think birds might be doing this, they wouldn’t be looking for it.

      50

      • #
        Extreme Hiatus

        Jo, as a very serious birder and student of birds for 50+ years I simply do not find this credible, at all.

        As you just pointed out, birds are indeed more intelligent than many think, and some bird families in particular. That is one reason why this does not make sense. None of the examples you noted – which do not include any hawks or falcons because they are not among the smartest birds – or any that I know of, pose any risk to the individual bird doing them and in each case that individual gets the benefit of that activity.

        In this case, the hawk would almost always burn its feet and risk burning its feathers, which would usually doom that bird. For what? To allegedly ignite a fire in a new area instead of hunting where there already is a fire? Moreover, how long would it take that dropped burning stick to burn an area sufficiently large enough to expose more prey – and more prey than was already available in the original burning area? What does this bird do while waiting for that? Most critically, why would an individual hawk take this risk to start this new fire when other hawks could just swoop in and take the products of its dangerous efforts? While a very few species of hawks do hunt collectively, this dangerous and possibly futile behaviour makes no sense in evolutionary terms.

        It is certainly possible that a hawk trying to pounce on a rodent could accidentally grab a burning stick. In which case they would drop it, just as you or I would, because it would burn its feet (or feathers). Someone seeing that could misconstrue that. But if this behaviour is some kind of ‘normal’ then it would have been recorded on film or video by now. There are birders and researchers everywhere with cameras these days. I will wait to see that before believing this, and I expect to be waiting for a very long time.

        Finally, southern California (and many other areas) has a similar fire scenario to Australia, with (formerly) similar indigenous burning practises, and lots of species of hawks. But nobody has come up with this story there, or anywhere else.

        So I’m thinking that the only species of hawk that would do this would have gone extinct before it evolved.

        10

        • #

          They do involve risk. Birds risk getting flattened on roads by cars as they collect the nuts they dropped after the nuts get crushed by a car. The firestick behaviour is much simpler.

          Have you been near minor scrub fires? It is easy to be upwind and grab a long stick that is cool on one end and burning on the other.

          Birds grabbing a dead stick would know the difference between it and a live lizard that struggles. They would not carry a dead stick for a kilometer thinking it was a lizard. Possibly dead roast lizard feels like a dead roast stick. But that just suggests a way this started accidentally (a point Andrew M already made I think).

          Australian birds have been exposed to fires for tens of thousands of years. The nation is a highly developed fire pit. These raptors have been observed and photographed many times close to fires and in packs. They are well known to be attracted to fire. Have you been watching the kinds of birds that like fire… ?

          Australia is not California. In the outback arid zones, covering hundreds of thousands of Sq km, meat is rare due to water shortages. Australian aboriginals ate a predominantly plant based diet in central Australia due to a shortage of game.

          That makes the fire feast opportunity a high stakes thing, and so much more valuable for predators.

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          • #
            TedM

            “Have you been near minor scrub fires? It is easy to be upwind and grab a long stick that is cool on one end and burning on the other.”

            Correct Jo. I would suggest (but don’t Know), that the birds may well collect the burning sticks from the rear or flank of the fire even in significant fires. They are not stupid, and have an aerial view of the whole thing.

            20

        • #
          Roger

          Well Hiatus seeing is believing as they say and we saw. No ifs, no buts the bird we watched made several attempts before “picking” the right size burning stick and positioning it so as to be able to fly safely.

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          See my comment at 2.8 The birds I saw were black kites not Hawks.

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    HAha. These crows not only drop nuts on roads for cars to crack, they learnt to do it at pedestrian crossings so that it was easier to collect the loot later and not get run over.

    From comments at WUWT by Mark Helsinki.

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      Extreme Hiatus

      Jo, Corvids – the bird family that includes crows, ravens, jays – are among the most intelligent. Why? Because they are omnivores and social. Intelligence is an adaptation. An omnivore must make decisions about what to eat and constantly learn about potential new food sources. That requires intelligence. So does the complex social lives of Corvids, which often does, directly and indirectly, involve food sharing.

      That video is a classic. But note that the only risk involved in that scenario is the traffic, something they can and obviously did learn about. That learning process likely involved the loss of one or two individuals at one point, which the others would learn from, and then this became a very low risk-high reward scenario for them.

      Hawks do not need to be that intelligent, so they aren’t. But they are definitely intelligent enough to not risk their lives when they don’t need to.

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      Extreme Hiatus

      Jo, Corvids – the bird family that includes crows, ravens, jays – are among the most intelligent. Why? Because they are omnivores and social. Intelligence is an adaptation. An omnivore must make decisions about what to eat and constantly learn about potential new food sources. That requires intelligence. So does the complex social lives of Corvids, which often does, directly and indirectly, involve food sharing.

      That video is a classic. But note that the only risk involved in that scenario is the traffic, something they can and obviously did learn about. That learning process likely involved the loss of one or two individuals at one point, which the others would learn from, and then this became a very low risk-high reward scenario for them.

      Hawks do not need to be that intelligent, so they aren’t. But they are definitely intelligent enough to not risk their lives when they don’t need to.

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        Extreme Hiatus

        Oops! Somehow clicked twice so comment above duplicated.

        But one more thing. If a bird species was adapted to carry burning objects – setting aside the need for fireproof feet for the moment – one would expect they would have very long featherless legs to prevent their feathers from burning. But these kites have feathers well down their legs not unlike many other raptors.

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          EH — wood is an excellent insulator. Stop with the “fireproof feet”. These birds could easily spot a long stick half in and half out of an ember pile

          They aren’t risking their health for nothing. They want an easy meal. Trying to live off lizards and mice that are well disguised and well hidden during the day would be tough. Panicking animals would be so much easier.

          The behaviour exhibited by the crows is much more complex. I am not suggesting the kites and hawks are smarter.

          And think about it — the “only risk” are 2 ton metal monsters driving at 60km/hour? “only”? ;-)

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    Extreme Hiatus

    Jo, I must respectfully disagree. I’m going to try to answer your two recent comments in this one.

    “Australian birds have been exposed to fires for tens of thousands of years.”

    Much longer than that but so have birds in many other parts of the world.

    “These raptors have been observed and photographed many times close to fires and in packs. They are well known to be attracted to fire. Have you been watching the kinds of birds that like fire… ?”

    Yes, and that makes complete sense. All that cooked dead food and prey visible on blackened ground. But where I live and have birded is a much different fire regime, with far fewer fires, so it is opportunistic rather than regular behaviour.

    “Australia is not California. In the outback arid zones, covering hundreds of thousands of Sq km, meat is rare due to water shortages. Australian aboriginals ate a predominantly plant based diet in central Australia due to a shortage of game.”

    But parts of California are, in terms of fire, just like Australia and parts are also desert. Moreover, most Native Californians also had a predominantly plant based diet too because their original populations were so high. In much of California the staple food was acorns. And they used very regular fire as their main land management tool. The descriptions of abundant wildlife in Calfornia (and most other parts of North America) came from after most indigenous people were wiped out by European diseases; that started in the mid-1500s with the first huge epidemic that began in Mexico and spread, via inter-tribal contacts, far from there – with more big epidemics after that.

    The classic example are the famous huge flocks of Passenger Pigeons – in areas which were previously occupied by dense populations of farming people who could never have tolerated such ‘agricultural pests’ and would instead eat them. Those flocks only occurred after those human populations were severely reduced or eliminated.

    Back to fire, here are two great references (books) for North America and California which no doubt have interesting parallels to Australia. As this whole reality contradicts the Green story of ‘evil Europeans ruining the pristine wilderness’ it is well buried.

    Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness
    by Omer C. Stewart (Author),‎ Henry T. Lewis (Editor),‎ M. Kat Anderson (Editor)

    Before the Wilderness: Environmental Management by Native Californians (Ballena Press Anthropological Papers, No. 40) Paperback – March 1, 1993
    by Kat Anderson (Author, Editor),‎ Thomas C. Blackburn (Author, Editor)

    Back to birds…

    “They aren’t risking their health for nothing. They want an easy meal. Trying to live off lizards and mice that are well disguised and well hidden during the day would be tough. Panicking animals would be so much easier.”

    But this – picking up a burning stick, carrying it somewhere, dropping it, and waiting somewhere long enough for that fire to create an open area with panicked prey and hoping no other hawk arrives to take it – would not be an “easy,” effective or efficient way to hunt. They do “live off lizards and mice that are well disguised and well hidden” almost all of the time so, for them, that can’t be too tough. No doubt that panicking animals out in the open is “easier” which explains why they do hunt in the burned areas.

    “the “only risk” are 2 ton metal monsters driving at 60km/hour? “only”?”

    Yes. Very visible and on completely predictable paths. That is why many birds can and do routinely feed on and along roads. In the case of Corvids they most often do that to get road kills and food tossed out of passing cars.

    In any case, I guess we’ll just have to wait for some real evidence from those prescribed burns you mentioned. If “These birds could easily spot a long stick half in and half out of an ember pile” that should be very easy to photograph.

    In the meantime, a hawk with feathers on its legs as far down as they are on a Black Kite just doesn’t look like a bird adapted to this kind of activity. I don’t know of any bird anywhere that does have the necessary adaptations for that, or that actually does do this.

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      Extreme Hiatus

      Jo, here’s a really interesting book about the pre-European North American ‘wilderness’ that can be read on line. Includes a serious look at the passenger pigeon story and many fire related issues. Bit of an eye opener!

      Wilderness And Political Ecology

      Description : Environmental law and philosophy assume the existence of a fundamental state of nature: Before the arrival of Columbus, the Americas were a wilderness untouched by human hand, teeming with wildlife and almost void of native peoples. In Wilderness and Political Ecology Charles Kay and Randy Simmons state that this “natural” view of pre-European America is scientifically unsupportable. This volume brings together scholars from a variety of fields as they seek to demonstrate that native people were originally more numerous than once thought and that they were not conservationists in the current sense of the term. Rather, native peoples took an active part in managing their surroundings and wrought changes so extensive that the anthropogenic environment has long been viewed as the natural state of the American ecosystem.

      http://www.e-bookdownload.net/search/wilderness-and-political-ecology

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    TedM

    This is of great interest to me, but not to the point of being silly as in my opinion some of the preceding comments are. Remember this is actually observed not modeled behaviour.
    I have witnessed raptors flying along the front of a low intensity fire and swooping on the small animals that emerge at the fire-front. The larger marsupials such as kangaroos and wallabies (including smaller wallabies) have been observed hopping along the front of a low intensity fire and when they find a cooler part of the front, hop back through the fire onto the burnt ground. This is behaviour can only be learned/acquired/evolved over a significant period of time in which many generations of the animals have been exposed to frequent low intensity fire. Quite unlike most of the fires that we experience today that are much more intense, and such behaviour under these circumstances would inevitably lead to the death or serious injury to these animals.

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      TedM

      I meant to write: This is of great interest to me, and it’s OK to be sceptical, but not to the point of being silly as in my opinion some of the preceding comments are.

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    ROM

    It is very unwise to underestimate the intelligence of both birds and animals s I have observed over my 79 years of basically rural living.

    Lighting a stubble fire to get rid of the previous crop’s residues so the preparation cultivation and seed sowing could be carried out without getting all bunged up with stubble residues was a part of our farming systems up to about 30 years ago when new designs of machinery plus GPS guidance systems on Automatically steered tractors ansd spray rigs enabled the seeding to be done between the 200 mm wide row gaps into the stubbles of last years crops without anynprior cultivation..

    And thats now done over the thousands of acres that are the Australian grain farms of today.

    Pror tothe new technology when we did the initial burn around the edges of the few hundred acre sized paddocks in the autumn prior to the winter rains and sowing periods back in the 50′s 60′s 70′ s and 80′s before you had even got halfway around the paddock with the small backburn you would have dozen plus hawks and falcoms and the odd kite here down in western Vic, all sitting up there in the nearest thermsal waiting for the action to begin.

    And when you lit the main fire then it was on for young and old as anything from mice on up tried to escape the fierce burning of the raging stubble fire and the raptors went in for the kill right into the flames at times at great speed.

    I definitely barracked for any small birds that were flushed by the fire and tried to make their escape from the ravening winged horde waiting overhead.

    The stubble quail were interesting as theywaited until doomsday before ejecting up from the stubble a few feet in front of the flame front and being Quail had one hell of a rate of acceleration and turn of speed but could not turn very much at full throttle.
    So our poor quail would get up and out of there and at maximum flatstrap I saw many a falcon try to run a quail ddown but they often failed becaue the quail did not just plunge back into the stubble anywhere anywhere but made a bee line for a fence or the channel banks and into the grass there .
    Which meant a good deal of sceeching of air brakes and a muscle sapping pull up by the quails pursurer as he / she of a much greater weight than a quail tried to prevent themselves from crashing into the fence or the channel bank .

    Now nobody can tell me after watching that scenarion innumerable times that those quail weren’t thinking ahead re their hopeful , not always successful survival by doing what is a fairly sophisticated bit of thinking under an extremist mental and survival or not situation.
    ——–

    An example of survival through incredible thinking and actions that not many if any humans could match which I have always remembered.

    Walking across a bare fallowed paddock at my home with about a 100 metres to go to a patch of timber one day, I reognised the very high pitched , very distressed screeching of a small parrot in very deep do-do rapidly coming up behind me and about 50 meters off to one side.
    The deep do-do from the little parrot’s point of view was one very fast moving fast accelerating , diving falcon homing in on that parrot who had nowhere to go out in that bare paddock except make it to those trees still a hundred metres ahead and nothing he could do about not being the falcon’s next meal.

    Or so I those few seconds thought sadly, for the little fellow as I liked out little group of Buloke parrots who use to sit out of the SWER line outside of our house on the farm and greet me each morning when I first went out with a lot of twittering and feet shuffling. After everybody had greeted everybody else appropiately we all went off on our day’s business.

    [ Initially only one pair of Buloke parrots use to greet me each morning in the same place of the SWER line but over the years they brought their chicks along until there were a dozen or more there each morning going through the twittering , foot shuffling routine of the mornings greetings to myself.
    They did not do it for anybody else nor bother to appear for anybody else...
    When we retrired to Horsham they stopped coming to that SWER line spot each morning to greet the new occupiers.. ]

    With about 50 metres to go to the shelter of the tree line and about metre and half off the ground, the Falcon half a dozen metres behind, that little parrot did something I just did not bellieve could be done.

    He stopped.

    He slammed everything into a vertical stance, wings wide open and just stopped there in mid air for about half a second and about a metre and half above ground.

    The Falcon of course completely missed by a couple of metres as where the parrot , his next meal was supposed to be wasn’t there when the Falcon arrived at his hit spot. That parrot was a couple of metres back and just getting back into top gear with full overdrive engaged all over again as the Falcon raced past overhead by a foot or so ..

    The Falcon stooped up hard vertically to try and bleed off speed, to see where that damn parrot had got to and to get back into gear to have another go at nailing that bloody parrot, his next meal, before he reached those trees now 50 metres ahead.

    But in the split second the Falcon had shot over him / her by a couple of feet, that parrot had everything going vertical the other way and was peddling at full throttle and screeching like hell all the way to those trees ahead.

    He made it with only a couple of feet to spare as the Falcon pulled up very hard to avoid hitting the tree.

    The parrot damn near shot right through the tree but I think managed to catch a branch going past and held on tight and so lived to see another day.

    Now over all my years out across that rural region I have never seen another bird do anything similar to that abrupt mid air stop that forced that fast moving raptor to miscalculate and to over shoot their prey when they almost had it in their talons.
    And then for their prey to get right back into gear and keep right on going to get to safety whilst his pursuer tried to get reorientated and then got into high gear again to get try and get that bloody parrot which the falcon almost managed to do but had to pull up and out to avoid hitting the tree at full chat which for the Falcon would have been a deadly crash at the speed it was moving at.

    That abrupt stop which must have hurt like hell for all the muscles on that little parrot for the next few days, was exceedingly desperate yet seemingly calculated split second manoeuvre for a maximum effect mid air stop followed by an instantaneos , no hesitation, back into full forward flight to reach safety which ultimately that saved the little parrot’s life
    ————————

    Farm animals of course have a certain notoriety for thinking through and solving problems particularly if there is some good tasting tucker readily accessed when they manage to solve the problem.

    One of my brothers problems was with one lot of cows he had.

    That mob of cows was always getting into the next door paddock nice succulent growing grain crop as somebody was always opening the gates or not latching them properly .

    And it could not be the cows opening that gate because the those gates were held shut with a chain and one of those undersized eyes over a large bulb ended short mounting rod bolted to the end post. The link on those gate closers has to be twisted sideways and then twisted again to get off and over the large spcially designed knob to make it difficult on the post end piece before one can undo the chain and open the gate.

    After the kids getting hell any number of times for leaving the gate open and allowing the mob of cows to get into the new growing crop, my brother closed it all himself,,,checked the gate chain , link and knobbed post piece and retired back to the house as usual.
    Only this time he stopped behind some object or tree in the ute, got the binoculars out and watched.

    The old matron of the mob , ambled over to the gate, carefully inspected the chain and link and large knob locking system, put the point of her horn into the link and carefully manouvered that link for the next minute or so until it slipped over the large knob on the gate post section that held the lchain and ink on and kept the gate closed and presto, casually pushed the gate open and waded into the lovely fresh feed on the other side of the gate with nthe rest of the mob as usual.

    A new and a good deal more complicated gate locking system was installed to stop that cunning old cow, one of the more polite terms by which she was subsequently called by my brother.`

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    ROM

    Extreme Hiatus @# 21

    Ditto Australia with the arrival of the first group of aboriginal peoples out of at least three groups, the last about 20,000 years ago , the first currently claimed at some 50,000 years ago, – the time line keeps getting pushed further and further back – and maybe a prior but very small group around close to a hundred thousand years back who probably settling down in the NW might have been wiped out by Sumatra’s Lake Tobal super eruption of some 74,000 years ago.

    They changed Australia’s ecology and environment in radical ways with their fire sticks that would be almost unrecognisable by today’s standards.

    Although in Australia’s case, a major climate shift from a wetter, warmer climate to a drier, lower rainfall clmate shift was also underway when mankind arrived here.

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    Up The Workers!

    Its not only the ‘kite-hawks’ and the ‘sparrow-hawks’ who are suspected of such incendiary behaviour, but also the more overtly feral members of the ‘bob-hawkes’ flock.

    I seem to recall that back in late 1993, a particular member of the ‘bob-hawke’ flock – a queer bird named a ‘richo-raptor’ became notorious for allegedly carrying his lighted firestick into pristine offset alpine areas much overgrown with fully paid-up, tinder-dry, insurance premiums.

    Vast damage was done to the local alpine wildlife, but some wily ferals miraculously profited handsomely from the conflagration.

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    Bruce

    Thank you Jo, after a bush fire caused by an incorrect demolition of white phosphorous ammunition at an ammunition depot in the Upper Hunter region, all of the low scrub and grass was gone. This left no cover for any exotic or native fauna. I have never seen so many wedgetail eagles and hawks in an area about 3km x 3km. This was in the mid seventies, before mobile phones, but these birds of prey were getting their information from something?!?

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    Well they could put in rows of wind turbines at the fire breaks to prevent the raptors from crossing.

    :-( :-( :-(

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    Roy Hogue

    If you don’t have fires going in the first place then the birds won’t be able to steal a burning twig and use it for flushing out the rodents in the second place. Fire in any area where it can get out of control very fast is something to avoid.

    I hope those birds practice good fire safety. Feathers burn like gasoline.

    On the other hand, this isn’t the first example of birds using tools to get a meal. Some birds that like tree bark boring insect larvae have been photographed choosing a suitable twig and using it to pry the uncooperative bug out of its hole.

    Maybe Hitchcock wasn’t so far off with his movie about the birds attacking. We should reconsider our thinking about our feathered friends before it’s too late. I think worrying abut a real problem would do everyone a lot of good and I can use a break from climate change always hanging over my head like a cloud ready to rain on everything I do. ;-)

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    Up The Workers!

    Spot on Roy, birds have been using available tools to get themselves a feed for decades.

    Just look at Hollywood and that tool Harvey Wankstains.

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      Roy Hogue

      Spot on. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. :-)

      Well, not quite but close.

      I’ll have to remember that one for future use.

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    Amber

    They must have learned how to start fires from the thousands of tent dwellers in California .
    No wonder “NEW CALIFORNIA ” wants to break away from the loons on the coast .
    Moonbeam will walk away just before it implodes .

    Hope Aussies cut the eco-anarchist’s off before they completely wreck the country .

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