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,”
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 …
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.
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.
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..
"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?)
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.
"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...
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
> 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.
I think you'll find those were IBM executives. Don't blame you for making the mistake though, as it can be hard to tell the difference between them and other bird brained species.
"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.
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.)
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.
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.
"The Red Kites currently recolonization the UK have 5-6' wingspans (hard to appreciate when you see them at a distance) so I imagine that theoretically, yes they could.
They do look fabulous, I must say.
Dunno about REcolonization - we've never totally lost them round here, but numbers have been growing. And they are indeed fabulous - I often see them from my office window, gliding over the fields next door, looking for something small and furry that is about to make its last squeek.
Conspiracy theory time:
The Russians (or Chinese or Norks or Democrats) have introduced a few Ozzie kites into California, where they have taught the skill of burning-branch-dropping to the local native Bald Eagles, indoctrinating them in their evil ideology at the same time, so that the once proud symbol of USia has now been polluted by the taint of commieness (and probably turned them all gay at the same time - it's the kind of thing those billionaire ruskie commies would do)
"The Russians (or Chinese or Norks or Democrats) have introduced a few Ozzie kites into California, where they have taught the skill of burning-branch-dropping to the local native Bald Eagles,"
The Bald Eagle is a pure capitalist. So the Republicans have taught it to start fires and burn out the poor folk, opening up the land oil drilling.
Even a common UK rook or magpie could spread fires, except they are busy eating road kill.
Awesome seeing a magpie dive bomb an adult bluetit on the feeder and fly off with it.
Raptors have a spread finger effect on end of wings. Look at a Raven, Magpie, Rook, Hoodie/carrion crow flying. They are mini-raptors.
The small birds are more freaked out by magpies than Rooks. They all vanish from garden if a magpie alights on the shed. Mostly they ignore rooks, though ours have learned how to use the peanut feeder and then others leave. I think they only bother with grain in summer or peanuts in feeder in winter when they run out of insects and roadkill.
There are both mistakes made on correlation and causation in both directions. Direct observation is on that is needed.
However, many if not all animals are adaptive and will learn. The error is in thinking they will not learn.
If they can pick up burning/smouldering twigs they will. They will then try many different things with them, perhaps even building their nests in error. Using them to hunt would be an additional step in the learning behaviour, but not an impossibility (see how many insects and crustaceans even use materials as lures/decoration to their habitat/body/hunting).
Of course and I get that, I just think that a bird picking up something either on fire or smouldering is too great a leap because the first time it gets it wrong and hurts itself it won't keep trying and how many times would it need to try for it to stick. There is also the rational behind it, I think it's a great leap for a bird to think "there's a fire I go hunt" to "there's a fire I move it very carefully so I can hunt more". I'm not saying it's impossible and time will tell with more study.
It's not impossible by a long stretch. Some birds are recorded and judged as having mental capacities similar to a 6-7 year old human child. If you can't remember what you did at such an age, any parent of such a child will be able to tell you the exact amount of trouble and deviousness that such a child can get up to.
For example, many such birds are capable of context based communication, social restraint and manipulation and a sense of humour. The more adaptable the birds species is the more they are likely to have a high intelligence.
"I just think that a bird picking up something either on fire or smouldering is too great a leap because the first time it gets it wrong and hurts itself it won't keep trying"
Which is why no animal ever learned to use fire, and those poor hairless apes are left shivering in the cold every winter.
there is clearly a problem with the way we are taught to view the world and collectively we are just starting to realise that we need to re evaluate what we have been taught rather than just accepting it.
We have for too long dismissed anecdotal information in favour of scientific hearsay & interpretation driven by people with undisclosed agendas.
the NHS springs to mind
"We have for too long dismissed anecdotal information in favour of scientific hearsay & interpretation driven by people with undisclosed agendas."May be true in some fields. When I was involved in agricultural research, a fellow told me that every research project he had been involved with started out as an anecdote from a farmer.
"Why do we have such difficulty in giving other living things credibility for an iota of intelligence?"
Good question! There are a few influences at work here. The greatest blame belongs to Religion, which usually states that we are divine creations in the image of the gods, and animals are dumb vermin-ridden beasts. It's very important for religions to claim humans are separate and special, so there's a default setting of "animals are dumb automatons, we're smart thinking beings not like them".
I lay a fair bit of blame on psychology, ethology and such for perpetuating this attitude. They reflexively dismiss as "anthropomorphizing" any suggestion that an animal might be doing anything we do, or worse, for the same reasons. When it was assumed that humans are a Special Creation that kinda made sense, but not since we know that we're all related.
The newness of Science plays a part as well. When we started looking for natural explanations for the universe (and us), there was a tendency to treat any discovery as the Complete Answer. We're finding out now that most things are far more complex than that first answer we found. That's OK, it's the scientific method at work, moving ever closer to the final truth.
I don't make any distinction between genus Homo and our fellow critters. We're all related from the same origins, and we for sure can share behaviors and motivations. Throw out the preconceptions and you'll see all kinds of animals doing amazing things that nobody much notices or gives them credit for.
I recall a story doing the rounds about birds learning to open milk bottles- in the days of glass milk bottles delivered to your doorstep.
Now we have flying raptors ( living dinosaurs...) mastering fire, and on our warming planet, probably gearing up to increase in size by an order of magnitude - large enough to make the flying lasershark nightmare an inevitable reality....
Because it is too easy to attribute intelligence where there is none. People have been fooled by behaviour that was highly complex but instinctive. People have even been fooled by "Eliza"-style programs, where we know exactly how unintelligent they are. People will even suppose there is intelligence and personality behind natural phenomena like lightning strikes. Scientists need to be careful to avoid such projection.
come come now, no one has died from a spider bite for about 50 years. Now the snakes well thats different, but there mostly out in the west or the bush. And the sharks, well they mainly take surfers. And the jellyfish are mainly in the north, same with the crocs. And well the drop bears can be a problem in the south east... hmmm... We do have some really nice hotels you can stay in... there's usually nothing too dangerous in those. Well mostly...
The most dangerous animals in Australia: include cows, horses, kangaroos, wasps & bees, and dogs. Right up the top. The cows and horses are imports and with kangaroos are mostly dangerous because you hit them when you are driving if they escape onto the roads (although horse-riding is a very dangerous sport), while the wasps & bees are European imports as our local wasps and bees don't sting. The dogs are pets, with the most dangerous of them being the pit bull terrier, an English breed. It is far more scary to go to England with all those dogs, bees and wasps (not to mention scary creatures like cows and horses) than Australia. Snakes are very shy and do not stay in hotel rooms and hang around city streets--they prefer long grass and hollow logs and will run away from an approaching human if they can, crocodiles only live in the top tenth of the continent and so you just be careful when going to croc infested areas, sharks prefer to keep away from shallow waters and NEVER walk down city streets or even in the in the bush for that matter. Death by spider bites is extremely rare and drop bears do not exist--Aussies just are amused about tourists terrors of Australian animals so they make up fantasy ones to scare tourists.
"The most dangerous animals in Australia: include cows, horses, kangaroos, wasps & bees, and dogs."The most dangerous animals in Australia are humans. Death by suicide is more common than dying caused by other humans' actions, so I respectfully suggest avoiding yourself is safest.
Why would the first fire bird pick up a burning twig?
One possibility; thought it was a cooked snake then dropped it when it wasn't.
Another possibility; picked up a smouldering animal then dropped it because it was too hot, or just to settle down and eat it.
There must be a common use case for moving burning things before the admittedly smart birds can see the effect of dropping something that is smouldering and seeing fire start, and making the intuitive leap that results in the consolidation of observed behaviour into learned behaviour.
Could make future fire insurance claims interesting as well. Bloody bird done it, mate!
"Why would the first fire bird pick up a burning twig?"
You can do the same amount of wondering about why anything happened for the first time. Given the number of edible plants vs inedible plants, is it just lucky we discovered agriculture before everyone gave up on the plant thing as being a waste of time?
Why is it such a big leap to imagine that these Birds are intelligent enough?
Known Fact: we can carry sticks (we do build nests that way)
Observation 1: The bright thing that we don't get too close to (hot) drives all our food crazy and makes for easy catches
Observation 2: The bright hot thing also tends to get bigger
Observation 3 : We can get close to the edge (especially a receding edge) of the bright hot thing without much issue
Conclusion: If we carry a stick that has the bright hot stuff to another place it will also get bigger and provide more food
I wonder if the color Red might have something to do with it? I'm thinking of a great incident where some photographers were trying for pictures of golden eagles in a snowy area. They were cutting pieces of meat to toss out and bring them in for close pictures. It happened that the knife had a bright red handle, and one of the eagles swooped in and grabbed it. They got some awesome pictures of a friggin' eagle flying around holding a knife! Talk about Death From Above!
Anyway, they seem to be drawn to reddish, meat and blood colored things. Might relate, might not...
We once had a dog that taught itself to open doors... inwards!
For months the whole family were all accusing each other of leaving doors open, until my brother walked past the dining room window and glanced in at the exact moment the dog's paw landed on the door handle, and he performed a sort of pirouette pulling the door open in the process.
Once we knew he could do it, we actually found it very useful - just had to remember to lock bedroom doors.
I had a dog that said "hi", I'm not kidding either.
Everyday for I came home and said "hi" in a high pitched voice to my doggos, eventually one would run up and make like it was doing a yawn with a high pitched sound... but I realized it was making the same sound every time "hiiiii".
We once had a dog that taught itself to open doors... inwards!
I had a pit bull that could do that! The old, crafty black cat we had could open inward-swinging doors, and since he had basically raised the dog from puppyhood, the dog could do so as well, using both paws to turn the doorknob in the same method as the cat. I miss them both. My current dog and cat, while personable, are not as smart.
Second comment, because it has just occurred to me.
In 1980, we all KNEW that Dingos won't take a baby, so this damn woman is obviously a liar and a murderer...
Most of us have SEEN Australian wildlife for maybe ten minutes, in its' native habitat. If that. What we know about it's behaviour, we read inside the lid of a box of Tally-Ho cigarette papers.
If the native people tell us the damn things spread fire on purpose, I would listen to them...
Stretched out in the pool on Sunday in a balmy summers 42c I watched the local birds behaviour around the dogs water bowl. I cant say it was intentional, but it seemed to me that one bird would fly in, attract the attention of our dog & the two would then go tearing off down the garden. Following which the water bowl would then be instantly swamped by a horde of birds..... when the dog came back, away they all go.... two minutes later another solitary bird comes along and it all repeats again.
So I certainly wouldn't put it past the buggers from learning to use fire as well. Cockatoo's can shred a camper van/tent very quickly in order to get to food - even if they cant see it. They know there is likely to be some inside.
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