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Research Suggests Some Birds May Intentionally Start Wildfires

Newsweek

Two types of birds in Australia have been found to possibly start fires to help them hunt better. 

Researchers have an interesting new theory about how wildfires spread that puts the blame on something other than lightning or humans. Have you ever heard of birds intentionally spreading fire?

There are apparently witnesses in parts of Australia that say two kinds of bird, black kites and brown falcons, sometimes intentionally take fire embers from an existing wildfire and use them to start fires in new areas.

The reason for this odd behavior? To more easily flush small potential prey items like insects and lizards out into the open for easy pickings, Newsweek reports.

It sounds crazy, but Penn State cultural geographer Mark Bonta, along with Northern Australia birder and lawyer Bob Gosford, has collected numerous stories from people who say they’ve witnessed the bizarre behavior.

At this point, the idea of birds spreading wildfires is only a theory. Bonta and Gosford have submitted their findings to other scientists and to scientific journals, but they don’t expect the idea to be totally accepted until they have proof, such as the behavior captured on video.

They are working to try and do just that, but for now, they’ve done extensive interviews designed to weed out people trying to deceive. While the behavior is literally unknown to the rest of the world, Bonta told Newsweek it appears it is common enough in Northern Australia that it is now “standard knowledge” to some people there.

“It’s second-hand and we don’t intend to say that this is happening without any doubt,” Bonta said. “But the stories [and the evidence] we have, we find very compelling.”

The theory also has some fascinating implications for the relationship between humans and birds. Bonta believes there’s a possibility of humans having learned to use fire as a tool from observations of birds. It also means that grasslands formerly thought to be created by human fires could quite possibly have a more avian origin.

It’s definitely an interesting theory. And if the stories of fire-starting birds turn out to be true, it would also be the first time an animal other than humans was found to use fire as a tool.

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Research Suggests Some Birds May Intentionally Start Wildfires