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Bat falcons may have used fire before humans

Kurt Holle

Ive heard stories from natives about birds carrying fire. They sounded to me a lot like the Phoenix myth: good stories with lots of imagination.

Boy was I wrong. It turns reality beats fiction. Australian raptors such as Brown Falcons, and Black Kites may use fire as a tool. The control of fire and its use as a tool was thought to be exclusive to humans. Who knows now if we learned it from birds?


Bat Falcon

 Bat falcon by Joao Quental (Wikimedia Commons)

Australian ornithologist Bob Gosford just published a paper documenting 20 accounts from firefighters in Australia who witnessed fire usage by raptors. Raptors hang out wildfires in savannas to capture mice, lizard and birds that are hastily escaping the flames. Therefore, their eyes are on the fire, not the sky. They are easier to catch.

That is not the truly amazing observation, however...

The truly amazing observation is that falcons and kites carry burning branches and twigs across barriers such as streams and roads to spread the fire. Sometime, twigs are dropped as far as 50 meters Twenty such accounts have been collected in Australia alone. There is little question it is deliberate, intelligent behavior.

Lets hope the Brown Falcons Amazonian cousin, the Bat Falcon, has not learned the technique.

As usual heres the link to the paper:

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