Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Birds are setting fire to the world. Run!


Well, not really, but check this out...

There is something called the "Gaia principle."

As I've said from time to time, the idea is that the world is essentially a single living organism and all the living things upon it make up its constituent parts. One part of the body is out of whack, the rest of it acts to get things back in balance. So if an organism like, say, humans, were not living in harmony with the rest of the whole, then a new virus might emerge to get humans back in check. Obviously it's highly contestable and it's not much more than a notion at this point, but it's one I've always been curious about. I don't know if it's at work in what I'm about to examine, but keep it in mind.

A study published in The Journal of Ethnobiology cites 20 different examples of Australian hawks starting fires in order to flush out prey. That's a bit misleading actually, as it conjures images of birds with either lighters or flint and steel. Wildfires are not uncommon in Australia. What has been observed are these birds of prey carrying already burning twigs and dropping them in vegetation, thus creating new fires. These fires force small mammals out into the open and the birds then have a greater chance of catching a meal. This means that there are now three reasons why wildfires get started: lightning strikes, human causes, and birds.

Most astonishingly, it would be the first recorded case of animals other than humans using fire.

I first read of this research on the Facebook wall of astronomer and science fiction writer, David Brin. CJ Cherryh, yet another science fiction writer, commented that birds already know how to weave and build with mud. And they've discovered fire.

What next? Was Alfred Hitchcock on to something with The Birds? Well, one of the reasons I like that film so much is that it hits back at all the obsequious cries of the "greatness of humanity". Yes, we've made impressive technological achievements, but we are not the only organisms capable of reasoning and problem solving...and note how in The Birds that technology did little for us. While I don't expect an animal revolt anytime soon, a finding such as this about birds and fire should serve as a reminder that only human arrogance would ever presume we are the only intelligent species in this world. After a previous post about species die-off, I find this bit about birds to be heartening.

Like I said, I don't know if this qualifies as Gaia-related, but I hope it gets your creative mind percolating with possibilities.

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