Hawks that use fire, wow

Did you all know about this?

Australian ‘firehawks’ use fire to catch prey

“Certain birds are fire followers in that they will take advantage of fires,” Bonta said. They perceive smoke and snatch the flushed-out animals. But a few raptors actively disperse flames on the landscape to obtain food. …

Their observations indicated black kites (Milvus migrans), whistling kites (Haliastur sphenurus) and brown falcons (Falco berigora) congregate around savanna fires, descend to seize burning sticks and transport them in their beaks or talons, either individually or in small cooperative groups. After dropping the sticks in other areas and setting the ground ablaze, these fire specialists swoop closer and grab grasshoppers and other invertebrates in midair as the prey flee the smoldering vegetation.

How about that? Other tool use by birds: Egyptian vultures use rocks to hammer ostrich eggs till they break. Gulls drop bread into water to bait fish into rising to the surface. Crows not only use sticks to get to insects, they carve the end of a stick into a hook first. Parrots can use pebbles to grind shells into grit so they can eat the shells — they need the calcium.

But use of fire! That’s a new one on me.

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5 thoughts on “Hawks that use fire, wow”

  1. This is totally cool and completely unexpected. There’s got to be a way to work that into a story!

  2. Yes, and birds of prey are not even thought to be especially intelligent. This is one snazzy rebuttal of that opinion!

  3. In addition to the whole thing being surprising, I note this detail: “either individually or in small cooperative groups”. Wouldn’t have seen that coming either: do birds of prey cooperate much?

  4. I’ve heard about it before; still neat, though. I think I found it while poking at stuff Lasky used in her owl series for kids. The owls used fire – not like this, though.

  5. Yes, I’d read about it somewhere, as an added danger of fires being spread beyond firebreaks. It’s very unexpectedly clever, especially considering the flammability of feathers, if they manage to carry a flaming stick in a cooperative group without setting themselves on fire…
    As the article says, they’re still not entirely sure how widespread this is, and want to start looking for it elsewhere. If it does exist beyond Australia, how wise it is to get people in South America and Africa to blame raptors for setting fires and start shooting or poisoning them more or less indiscriminately, like those Australian ranchers?

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