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  • It's no secret that birds can be pretty smart.

  • You've probably heard of birds using tools or solving puzzlesbut in Australia, they

  • take things to the next level.

  • There, some birds are said to intentionally start firesmaking them the only animals

  • besides humans known to do that!

  • Most animals don't like being near fire. The standard instinct around flames is to

  • drop what you're doing and run.

  • But some birds of prey do just the opposite. If they spot a wildfire, they'll actually

  • fly towards it.

  • They've figured out that fire causes little critters to panic and flee, making them easy targets.

  • As long as the birds are careful not to get burned, a fire can mean an easy meal.

  • This incredible behavior is called fire foraging and it's been seen in predatory birds around the world.

  • But in Australian tropical savannas, some birds seem to take this strategy a step further.

  • They're known as firehawks because they're said to fly into active fires, carry away

  • a burning stick in their beak or talons, and then drop it into dry brush to start a totally new fire!

  • There's a lot we don't know about this avian arson. It's never been reliably captured

  • on photo or video, but the stories trace back generations.

  • Around the world, there are human cultures that have lived alongside native wildlife

  • for hundreds or thousands of years. And these cultures can be a valuable source of what's

  • called indigenous ecological knowledge.

  • And a 2017 study set out to collect this local knowledge.

  • Most stories identify three species as the arsonists: black kites, whistling kites, and

  • brown falcons, though there may be other birds that do it, too.

  • And the team found that at least 12 different ethnic Aboriginal groups reported first-hand

  • knowledge of fire-spreading in these birds. They're even in some of their religious ceremonies.

  • One account goes as far as to suggest that early Aboriginal people may have learned the

  • trick of fire-foraging by watching the birds!

  • The study also collected observations from non-Aboriginal people, including modern-day firefighters.

  • As you can imagine, birds that can start fires could be a real pain if you're job is to

  • control blazes, so local firefighters are often on the lookout for the birds.

  • One firefighter reported an instance where he spent an afternoon putting out seven different

  • fires started by kites!

  • And another witnessed a group of birds start a fire that burned so out of control that

  • it damaged a local cattle station.

  • In total, the study found accounts of fire-spreading from West Australia, Queensland, and the Northern

  • Territory — a total area of thousands of square kilometers.

  • So it may not be video footage, but it's pretty comprehensive ethno-ornithological

  • evidencethat is, cultural knowledge of birds.

  • But the behavior still hasn't been scientifically observed and documented, so the researchers

  • aren't done yet.

  • They plan to conduct more interviews, set up field experiments, and equip local rangers

  • with the tools to catch the birds in the act.

  • All that will hopefully reveal how often the birds start fires and how firefighters can

  • best plan around the behavior.

  • And, it may even help researchers figure out how they learned to do it in the first place!

  • Everything we currently know about firehawks comes from people paying attention to nature.

  • Their inquisitiveness allowed them to make remarkable observations of these incredible birds.

  • And, just imagine what you could learn if you indulged your curiosity a little more.

  • If you're looking for a place to start, you might want to consider Curiosity Stream.

  • CuriosityStream is a subscription streaming service full of documentaries and nonfiction

  • titles, so you can indulge your curiosity about pretty much everything.

  • For example,If you want to learn more about how harnessing fire altered humanity, you

  • could watch their original series The History of Food.

  • It takes you from the invention of cooking through the industrialization of the food

  • industry, and even peeks ahead at what might lie in the future.

  • And you can watch it plus any of their other 2400-plus titles for less than three dollars

  • per month. All you have to do is head on over to to subscribe.

  • If you use the promo code 'scishow', you'll even get your first 31 days for free!

  • [ ♪OUTRO ]

Thanks to Curiosity Stream for sponsoring this episode of SciShow! To learn more, go

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B1 fire aboriginal curiosity curiosity stream foraging knowledge

Firehawks: Nature's Arsonists

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/03/30
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