Head study #2

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Prometheus Birds

There is a new study published in the Journal of Ethnobiology that is worth delving into. Unfortunately it is behind a pay wall but richer souls than me paid the ticket for a look and I will break it down for you based on what little I know.

Raptors are using fire as a tool to hunt food in a way that no one thought they were capable of.
Intentional Fire-Spreading by “Firehawk” Raptors in Northern Australia
Mark Bonta, Robert Gosford, Dick Eussen, Nathan Ferguson, Erana Loveless, and Maxwell Witwer
Journal of Ethnobiology Dec 2017 : Vol. 37, Issue 4 Special Section: Birds II, pg(s) 700- 718https://doi.org/10.2993/0278-0771-37.4.700
We document Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and non-Indigenous observations of intentional fire-spreading by the fire-foraging raptors Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), and Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) in tropical Australian savannas. 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 behavior, often represented in sacred ceremonies, is widely known to local people in the Northern Territory, where we carried out ethno-ornithological research from 2011 to 2017; it was also reported to us from Western Australia and Queensland. Though Aboriginal rangers and others who deal with bushfires take into account the risks posed by raptors that cause controlled burns to jump across firebreaks, official skepticism about the reality of avian fire-spreading hampers effective planning for landscape management and restoration. Via ethno-ornithological workshops and controlled field experiments with land managers, our collaborative research aims to situate fire-spreading as an important factor in fire management and fire ecology. In a broader sense, better understanding of avian fire-spreading, both in Australia and, potentially, elsewhere, can contribute to theories about the evolution of tropical savannas and the origins of human fire use.
 It appears that the aborigines were exactly right. Certain species of kite and falcon steal fire and use it to flush out prey. Here was my first sort of cumbersome look at the matter, Is this bird an arsonist? from National Geographic. That led me to a 2011 blog that was really good, Crikey.
“I have seen a hawk pick up a smouldering stick in its claws and drop it in a fresh patch of dry grass half a mile away, then wait with its mates for the mad exodus of scorched and frightened rodents and reptiles. When that area was burnt out the process was repeated elsewhere. We call these fires Jarulan“
And another good link here at Live Science. It is interesting that the birds are sometimes accompanied by crows. Corvids are supposedly the smartest birds and I often see them in the same trees as the raptors I photograph. I always wondered if the relationship was symbiotic. They were supposed to be the only birds that used tools. Which species discovered the trick, and if they shared, who taught who?

And I found this thought provoking gem:
...I found a reference to a belief, I think it was in New Guinea (would have to check my notes) that humans learned how to use fire from watching kites. 

Was fire a gift from the gods or from the birds? Prometheus gave man fire and Zeus sent an eagle to eat his liver away every day. Raptors have apparently been inextricably linked to fire in many myths.

I look forward into doing some research and hopefully finding out much more about this thought provoking subject.

Bob Gosford 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The raptors of the unbelievable?