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Black Kites - Do Birds Start Fires?

And did they teach humans to use fire?
© Shane Bartie View Large

In the savanna country of northern Australia, the vegetation is well adapted to the area’s recurrent fires. As flames sweep across the savanna, Black Kites watch for prey like grasshoppers and lizards that flee the fire. But there’s now evidence that Black Kites may actually create fires by carrying burning twigs in their talons and dropping them on a patch of savanna away from the original wildfire. The kites then pick off the escaping prey. Setting a new area ablaze allows that individual kite to feed in a space where there aren’t so many rival predators.  

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Do Black Kites Start Fires?

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.
 [Loud sounds of fire burning, crackling]
The savanna country of northern Australia is one of the most fire-prone natural habitats in the world, and the vegetation is well adapted to the recurrent fires. As a fire sweeps across the savanna, birds of prey such as Black Kites stand or hover near the fire’s margin, awaiting prey like grasshoppers and lizards fleeing the flames. [Black Kite calling, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/1520, 0.25-.28]
But there’s now growing evidence that Black Kites aren’t only opportunists. They may actually help create some of these fires by carrying burning twigs in their talons, dropping them on a patch of savanna away from the original wildfire, and picking off the escaping prey.
[Loud sounds of fire burning, crackling]
Setting a new area ablaze allows that individual kite to feed in a space where there aren’t so many rival predators.  [Black Kite calling, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/1520, 0.25-.28]
During the 2016 fire season in Australia, two scientists collected data to document this phenomenon. Accounts from fire fighters, park rangers, and other stewards of the land echo the knowledge of indigenous people of northern Australia, who have long known about birds propagating fires.
This has led some to speculate that early humans might even have learned how to use fire, based on watching these birds carrying burning embers.
[Black Kite calling, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/1520, 0.25-.28]
For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.
                                                                               ###
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 1520 recorded by Peter G. Kaestner.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org   January 2017   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID#          BLAK-01-2017-01-25    BLAK-01

http://wildfiretoday.com/2016/02/07/did-humans-learn-how-to-use-fire-as-...
https://blogs.crikey.com.au/northern/2015/11/08/ornithogenic-fire-raptor...
http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/australian-raptors-may-be-p...

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