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Earth Australia

Australian Birds of Prey Are Deliberately Setting Forests On Fire ( 96

An anonymous reader writes: If you've been counting the ways the Australian environment is trying to kill you, you can now add "arson" to the list. According to a six-year study published in The Journal of Ethnobiology, observers have confirmed what Aboriginal rangers have been observing for years: birds of prey routinely carry burning or smouldering sticks into dry grassy areas to scare small mammals into fleeing so they can be pack-hunted more effectively. This has implications for environmental management, since the best firebreak will not protect your controlled burn from a "firehawk" determined to breach it.
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Australian Birds of Prey Are Deliberately Setting Forests On Fire

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  • I hope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dwywit ( 1109409 ) on Saturday January 20, 2018 @06:09PM (#55968961)

    that I don't get targeted by a short-sighted wedge-tailed eagle.

    That's a *hell* of a fear to overcome - and a hell of leap for a hunter to make. It's not like they'd accidentally pick up a burning stick and remember that dropping it in just the right area results in lots of dinner running about in the open.

    • Re:I hope (Score:5, Interesting)

      by yndrd1984 ( 730475 ) on Saturday January 20, 2018 @07:27PM (#55969279)

      It's not like they'd accidentally pick up a burning stick and remember that dropping it in just the right area results in lots of dinner running about in the open.

      I could easily see them picking up and dropping sticks to scare prey out of small grassy patches.

      Adding the 'smoking sticks sometimes work even better' part doesn't seem like that much of a stretch.

      • I think it not unreasonable to think that they understand the connection between fire, critters fleeing fire, and burning sticks spreading fire. That critters flee fire, and that burning sticks start fire are both easily observed. Predators hunt by learning associations that indicate the presence of prey.

      • Of course, even if the birds understand that dropping the 'smoking sticks' does lead to an increased incidence of food for dinner tonight, would the birds understand the consequences of the long range loss of habitat and prey animals caused by a significant wildfire?
        • Re:I hope (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ravenshrike ( 808508 ) on Saturday January 20, 2018 @10:20PM (#55969927)

          Wow you're a fucking idiot. Wildfires don't cause long term loss of habitat in grasslands. Hell, they don't cause long term loss of habitat in forests unless a bunch of complete fucking MORONS pass a bunch of legislation not allowing them to occur on a regular basis and let the brush build up to forest-destroying levels.

          • Thank you for the kind words. Your encouragement has given me the impetus to elaborate.

            There is a secondary (and likely a tertiary) effect of the birds behavior, even if we stipulate it is an intentional learned behavior. Unlike human intelligence, it seems unlikely the birds' capacity for learning would ever leap to these longer range consequences.

            • I think that the birdbrains over at PETA are clear evidence that birds can come up with all kinds of theories about their actions and the environment.

        • by sd4f ( 1891894 )
          Australian plants have, broadly speaking, evolved with fire. Quite a few plant seeds won't germinate or get released unless they've been through a bush fire. After a fire has gone through, the forests tend to grow back rather quickly, within a few years.
  • by Templer421 ( 4988421 ) on Saturday January 20, 2018 @06:11PM (#55968967)

    But not Pontiac.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 20, 2018 @06:14PM (#55968973)

    Surely it's time to just give up on Australia. It's the same temperature as the sun, every single creature there wants to either kill you or give you an STD and now even the god damn birds are trying to set the whole country ablaze.

    Maybe it's time to just board up the windows and move to a less murderous country.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 20, 2018 @07:49PM (#55969331)

      If the animals are giving you an STD you're doing nature watching wrong.

    • ...Maybe it's time to just board up the windows and move to a less murderous country.

      Oh come on, toughen up and get on with life. It's only ONE more thing to worry about. And it's really trivial compared to the butterflies, for example.

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      Unfortunately the rest of the world wants our iron ore, coal, natural gas, gold, wheat, cows, wool, sheep and other exports so we cant leave :)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Far better than the US, where it's the people who are trying to kill you.

      • Far better than the US, where it's the people who are trying to kill you.

        Oh, we don't just try - we're very good at it, and persistent.

    • Not forgetting bears that will drop from trees and bite you... []
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Instead of abandoning it can't we still use it for something? E.g. we could use it to store criminals.

    • by Evtim ( 1022085 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @02:49AM (#55970489)

      Death held out a hand. I WANT, he said, A BOOK ABOUT THE DANGEROUS CREATURES OF FOURECKS-

      Albert looked up and dived for cover, receiving only mild bruising because he had the foresight to curl into a ball.

      After a while Death, his voice a little muffled, said: ALBERT, I WOULD BE SO GRATEFUL IF YOU COULD GIVE ME A HAND HERE.

      Albert scrambled up and pulled at some of the huge volumes, finally dislodging enough of them for his master to clamber free.

      HMM... Death picked up a book at random and read the cover. "DANGEROUS MAMMALS, REPTILES, AMPHIBIANS, BIRDS, FISH, JELLYFISH, INSECTS, SPIDERS, CRUSTACEANS, GRASSES, TREES, MOSSES, AND LICHENS OF TERROR INCOGNITA, " he read. His gaze moved down the spine. VOLUME 29C, he added. OH. PART THREE, I SEE.


      They waited.


      "No, wait master. Here it comes."

      Albert pointed to something white zigzagging lazily through the air. Finally Death reached up an caught the single sheet of paper.

      He read it carefully and then turned it over briefly just in case anything was written on the other side.

      "May I?" said Albert. Death handed him the paper.

      "'Some of the sheep, '" Albert read aloud. "Oh, well. Maybe a week at the seaside'd be better, then."


  • Firewolves (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 20, 2018 @06:42PM (#55969091)

    That's interesting about the avian predators. We have a ranch where we have a pack of wolves that works with us to herd and defend our livestock against their wild cousins. Nothing keeps wild wolves away from our livestock like the wolves that adopted our ranch decades ago. Some of these ranching wolves use fire. They'll feed sticks into a bonfire and they'll take hot brands out of a bonfire and carry them away. This is an issue we have to be careful of and attentive to if we have a fire going. It's cute until they have a ring of fire going around you... Man is not the only hunter with intelligence.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's really interesting. Do the ranching wolves get anything out of protecting your ranch?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They get a territory with protection from their primary predator (humans) plus a share of the kill - it's pretty easy work for them with a reliable year round food source unlike out in the wild where winter can be leaner.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Or is this really B.S.

  • Vernor Vinge predicted birds starting fires in Marooned in Realtime.

    • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

      So that's where they got the idea!

      And maybe that's why I thought of a short-sighted wedge-tailed eagle - they've spent too much time reading science fiction.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    European scientists, however, have shown a reluctance to accept the observations of Aboriginal Australians, which explains why this seemingly widespread behavior has not been scientifically documented until now.

    Yeah. What do those primitive people who've been living there all their lives know about their territory?

  • by bobstreo ( 1320787 ) on Saturday January 20, 2018 @07:14PM (#55969213)

    Things that want to kill you in Australia for $400 Alex.

    If there was a concerted effort to clean-up brush before it created a firenado, the birds wouldn't have to...

  • Quick, someone kick Prometheus in the sack.
    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      I can't really blame Prometheus here. When you have your liver eaten by raptors every day, I think it's understandable if you eventually trade the secret for a little respite.

  • Make the species extinct. There... problem solved.
  • Fire in Australia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thePsychologist ( 1062886 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @12:38AM (#55970255) Journal

    Fire and Australia have an intimate relationship. Aborigines and later Australians have been setting fire to this country for centuries to manage agriculture and wild game. Many animals depend on fire to set free the seeds of certain Eucalypts and certain ecosystems also depend on the fire-regrowth cycle. This study adds to the mystique of fire in Australia.

    For those who have never visited, if you spend a little time in outback Austrlalia, there is something undefinable here that will burn into your soul.

    • there is something undefinable here that will burn into your soul.

      That's just the brownsnake poison paralysing the muscles of your heart.

  • I live in Southern California, where it's fire season any time there hasn't been rain in 90 days. I hope the birds here never catch on to this because even without avian pyromaniacs, there've been too many big fires the last few years.
  • Now THIS is the kind of world I like! Fricken birds that drop fire from above. Kind of like small feathered dragons if you squint a little and mistake the dropped torch for breath.

That does not compute.