The fiery birds of Oz

In Australia’s Northern Territory, during the dry season, three types of birds—black kites, whistling kites and brown falcons—hunt down small animals flushed out by bushfires.

Published: 10th February 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th February 2018 02:30 AM   |  A+A-

In Australia’s Northern Territory, during the dry season, three types of birds—black kites, whistling kites and brown falcons—hunt down small animals flushed out by bushfires. Do these birds, the so-called fire hawks, spread fires on their own so that they can hunt their prey?

Burning down forests to hunt

Locals claim that these birds carry burning sticks to new locations to keep the fire going on, writes Asher Elbein in the New York Times. Though such claims have long been met with skepticism, a paper published recently in Journal of Ethnobiology says that all three species do spread fire for hunting purposes

Feathered arsonists

Although no photographic or videographic proof exists for the birds’ behaviour, Bob Gosford, an ornithologist, and Mark Bonta, an assistant professor of earth sciences at Penn State Altoona and their team collected compelling ethnographic reports

The interviewees told them stories of how raptors stole burning twigs from cook fires and took them a kilometre away to smoke out the prey. Another firefighter said he saw a flock of birds spread a wildfire all the way up a small valley, adds Elbein, a journalist who focuses on nature

Birds baiting fishes

Raptors in general are known for their smart hunting techniques. The black kites have a reputation for being particularly clever. “They’ve been known to take food from schoolyards, even from children’s hands, and use bread scraps at picnic areas to bait fish within capture range,” Steve Debus, an adjunct lecturer at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia was quoted as saying by the Times

Fire not a human invention?

Some Aboriginal people even say that the birds activities might have led humans to first discover fire. “I’m glad that others are now talking about co-evolution and learning from birds … Fire may not be so uniquely human after all,” Bonta told the Times

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