back to article If Australian animals don't poison you or eat you, they'll BURN DOWN YOUR HOUSE

Already replete with sharks, crocodiles, snakes and poisonous jellyfish galore, Australia may also be home to arsonist birds that spread fire so they can feed on animals as they flee. The belief that birds like the Whistling Kite, Black Kite and Brown Falcon spread grass fires goes back so far that it's commemorated in …

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Fascinating

Scary, but fascinating.

I'm sure he didn't intend this to sound racist: “There's scepticism about this – lets get some non-Aboriginal people to see if they observed it,”

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Re: Fascinating

Well, the world was created by a rainbow serpent if you believe everything Aboriginals say, so it's a very valid suggestion.

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Re: Fascinating

If you read the abstract, I think what this is riffing on is the fact that Aboriginal fire managers are aware of the issue and relatively prepared to deal with it - but non-Aboriginal fire managers have been dismissing it as a silly tale told by ignorant savages, safely ignored as a cause of controlled burns hopping fire breaks.

The importance of getting the observation reported in a peer-reviewed journal is to slap the non-Aboriginal fire managers with a clue bat.

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Re: Fascinating

Sadly there is a tendency for those not used to a place or situation to reject the words of those who claim to have seen things while living in the area. Having lived in many places I am familiar with that risk. The stories you are told just feel too far fetched. Yet when you see them played out you face the same scepticism from others you originally felt when you heard it the first time. So perhaps he was simply recognising the innate xenophobia of all people. For most people it does not exist unless they see it for themselves.

For the record, I can well believe that birds will learn and pass on knowledge to others in their group. The birds probably do not want an all out fire, the threat of smoke is probably enough to harry prey. If carrying a few smouldering twigs earns you a meal discount who would not do so? Is it so very different to those probably non aboriginal people gifting their soul, or their very being to a trader and getting a discount tag on their mobile device? I had a discounted meal on the basis of someone else's tag on Saturday, (I had declined to sign up to the place as I wanted my data to remain at least passably mine..

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Re: Fascinating

Shall we get into how the world was created if you believe most of the non-aboriginal inhabitants of Australia?

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PK

Re: Fascinating

Sounds normal. No-one believed the Okapi existed until a european person found one. The locals of course had known about them forever.

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Pint

Re: Fascinating

@noodle: "slap ...... with a clue bat" - nice. I may quote you once or thrice.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fascinating

Probably also a case of any community having a fixed view on something that may be due to being told by others and having stories passed around or an accepted view. However if it has also independently been witnessed outside of that community then it has more credence.

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Re: Fascinating

Which is no more ludicrous than any other religions creation myths ..

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Re: Fascinating

Sadly, empirical evidence is frequently dismissed by scientists, even though, by it's very nature, it is observed behaviour.

This is why we waste money on scientific studies to prove the grazing behaviours of sheep, instead of just accepting what sheep farmers have known for centuries.

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Re: Fascinating

Politely disagree. Scientists know that anecdote is anecdote, rather than empirical evidence. The *existence* and nature of anecdote can be studied to provide empirical evidence, or used as inspiration about a topic to study, but those are different things.

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Re: Fascinating

Exactly... the problem here is confusing the word aboriginal and anecdotal.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fascinating

> Well, the world was created by a rainbow serpent if you believe everything Aboriginals say,

As opposed to having been created by a bloke in six days?

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Alien

Re: Fascinating

Many races believe that the creation of the Universe involved some sort of God, though the Jatravartid people of Viltvodle VI believe that the entire Universe was in fact sneezed out of the nose of a being known as the Great Green Arkleseizure.

The Jatravartids live in perpetual fear of the time they call "the Coming of the Great White Handkerchief", somewhat similar to the Apocalypse. However, the Great Green Arkleseizure theory is not widely accepted outside Viltvodle VI.

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Re: Fascinating

"lets get some non-Aboriginal people to see if they observed it"
Australian Aborigines have considerably higher visual acuity than whitefellas, so the latter may have trouble discerning what's happening.

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Re: Fascinating

"Sadly, empirical evidence is frequently dismissed by scientists, even though, by it's very nature, it is observed behaviour."
So very true. In 1772 the French Academy of Science appointed a committee to investigate reports of what are now called meteorites. Meteorites were dismissed as superstitions lingering from a time when Jove was thought to punish errant mortals by hurtling his thunderbolts at them. The evidence was that meteorites were only ever observed by superstitious peasants, never by sceptical scientists.

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Re: Fascinating

"Politely disagree. Scientists know that anecdote is anecdote, rather than empirical evidence."
When I first started suffering from arthritis, I was advised to avoid consuming produce of the nightshade family: potatoes, tomatoes, chilis etc. There is no evidence for the belief that such consumption aggravates inflammation. None whatsoever. But that doesn't stop the advice being universally given by medical practitioners. There is evidence that capsicain (found in chillies) is about as effective as the NSAID ibuprofen. Go figure...

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Re: Fascinating

Usually myths are rooted in fact

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/secret-caves-in-cape-york-reveal-fossilised-snake-skeletons-and-link-to-dreamtime/news-story/1a4eb89831bffab0c00cd3669dc6aa2a

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Childcatcher

Re: Fascinating

Doctors != Scientists

In my experience most saw bones are not even close to Scientific. The guys with the really sharp knives are usually pretty competent meat mechanics, but most GP's are little more than well trained voodoo acolytes

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Re: Fascinating

Dan do you mean the dominant belief that nothing exploded and adding randomness creates highly ordered complex information ? Most in Oz are mere materialists, I digress. Another reason to love Oz. Our wildlife really is dangerous. It beats being bored

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Re: Fascinating

"Sounds normal. No-one believed the Okapi existed until a european person found one. The locals of course had known about them forever."

Fascinating indeed! I have never heard of or seen an Okapi until I looked it up on the web after reading your post.

(Are you a local or a European?)

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Re: Fascinating

Then you'll love the clue-by-four upgrade I was going to suggest.

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But how do they spread fires?

Somehow I don't think they steal matches or cigarette lighters.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

I would assume by fanning the flames of the bush fire with their wings, causing it to spread in a different direction or quicker.

The article talks about the spread of fire, not starting fires per se.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

No. They don't steal them, they buy them from the 7-11 like everyone else....

Not sure how they get the ciggie packet under their sleeves.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

as per the article, carrying and dropping burning sticks would do it

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

Picking up burning/smoldering twigs, I imagine.

While they aren't right up there with the size and leg strength of some birds, they are medium-sized raptors so grabbing and carrying things with their talons is kind of their bag. (Though I understand the Black Kite is more a scavenger.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: But how do they spread fires?

Mini flamethrowers for a lark.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

Black kites are very, very adaptive (much like buzzards). I have seen them scavenging in Tokyo and Kampala, but also catching fish in a lake near mount Fuji. They seem to be highly opportunistic and intelligent, so I wouldn't put it past them to have learnt how to spread fire to increase their chances of an easy (or even cooked) meal.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

I, for one, welcome our new Black Kite overlords.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

Mini flamethrowers for a lark

Sounds weirdly specific. What do they use for other species?

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

It sounds like a pretty good strategy for a bird of prey, where it's prey would happily sit in a hide/nest/inaccessible location to prevent the birds of prey eating them.

Bird of prey drops burning branch on prey hide. Prey exits hide, to avoid being burnt to death and bird of prey gets lunch.

Presumably they started doing this before we started managing things to the point that wildfires didn't occour both frequently and naturally, so when there is a wildfire it ends up burning a huge area instead of a tiny one.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

What do they use for other species?

Bigger flamethrowers.

You should see the size of the ones they have for kangaroo!

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

Somehow I don't think they steal matches or cigarette lighters.

Parrots would. They have a similar intelligence to cats only they are much smarter and craftier!

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

But rooks are now using traffic & traffic lights to crack nuts and snails.

Corvids even in UK turn out to be lazy and thus only demonstrate recognising guns, people, counting, using tools etc when otherwise they'd starve or be dead. Researchers were surprised the common UK rook was able to solve same puzzles (and use tools) just as well as the famously smart Caledonian crow. UK rooks can open a lock with a key and also "fish".

Curiously Magpies or Corvids in general aren't particularly into stealing shiny things, though some juvenile rooks might (recent research). Some rooks will "befriend" a human feeding them and then bring objects, there is no explanation yet.

However guinea fowl and some other avians I've kept seem extremely stupid.

There may be a good reason why the crow family feature so much in Norse, Celtic and other myths.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

No, they leave the complicated stuff like matches and lighters for the Dropbears to do.

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Holmes

Re: But how do they spread fires?

Frickin' lasers.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

"...an easy (or even cooked) meal."

Cooked flesh offers a physiological - therefore, an evolutionary -- benefit. It's those arranging the cooking that are to be watched carefully. Along with their associates. The best surprise is no surprise.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

> Frickin' lasers.

Not sure sharks come in small enough sizes for a raptor to pick up.

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GBE

Re: But how do they spread fires?

But how do they spread fires?

With frikkin' laser beams attached to their heads, obviously.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

Centipedes have a similar number of legs to tripods only they have many more.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

"However guinea fowl and some other avians I've kept seem extremely stupid."
You don't need to be intelligent when you are protected from predators and have your food and shelter provided by humans. A friend who keeps turkeys says that the juveniles have to be taught to eat; they are apparently too stupid to learn unassisted.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

"But rooks are now using traffic & traffic lights to crack nuts and snails."

And I've personally seen a pigeon catch a suburban train, thus avoiding a long flight over a significantly high hill.

The pigeon appeared to know a few important things: - park yourself under a seat to avoid attracting the attention of the ticket collector, there is a long tunnel on this line so don't panic when it suddenly gets very dark and noisy, and, most important, it knew exactly which station it wanted to get off at - it didn't get out at any stops before the tunnel and it didn't get out until the second or third stop after the tunnel - even then, it wasn't in any hurry, it just waited until all the humans had cleared the door and then just walked out.

A remarkable adaption to city life, really.

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Pigeons on trains

How do you know the pigeon was deliberately choosing a particular stop, rather than wandering onto the train knowing that often there's food to be found on the floor, especially under seats? You'd have to observe a pigeon getting off at that stop more than once to conclude it wasn't just random when it got off.

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WTF?

Re: Pigeons on trains

I too have seen this behaviour in London; Only it wasn't a lone pigeon but a sizeable number. ~12 or so sauntered into the carriage, some parked themselves, some had a sniff about for food scraps; The whole flock stayed on for a couple of stops and waited by the door & exited at "their" station. It was the weirdest most surreal thing I have seen.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

Very, very carefully so as not to get caught.

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Re: Pigeons on trains

"How do you know the pigeon was deliberately choosing a particular stop, rather than wandering onto the train knowing that often there's food to be found on the floor, especially under seats? "

A couple of reasons: i), it was under the seat opposite me and it wasn't wandering around looking for food, it was just standing there, and ii), it's wife and kids were waiting to meet it.

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Re: But how do they spread fires?

You don't need to be intelligent when you are protected from predators and have your food and shelter provided by humans. A friend who keeps turkeys says that the juveniles have to be taught to eat; they are apparently too stupid to learn unassisted.

Sounds like Glasgow.

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