These ‘Firehawk raptors’ are terrifying and fascinating all at the same time. Have you ever seen a bird intentionally spread fire?
A more recent study going over the behavior of these birds has me shook. These flying firestarters can be found in at least three species that we know of at the moment. Those three species being Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), Brown Falcon (Falco berigora), and Black Kite (Milvus migrans). These birds intentionally spread fire by wielding burning sticks in their talons and beaks. This study was published in the Journal of Ethnobiology.
Co-author of this study Mark Bonta told National Geographic as follows:
“We’re not discovering anything.”
“Most of the data we’ve worked with is collaborative with Aboriginal peoples… They’ve known this for probably 40,000 years or more.”
You see, the idea is that these birds of prey are using the fires to help them find food. When there is fire, finding their meals suddenly becomes much easier. This really may be enough to have us all rethinking how fire spreads in tropical savannas like those in Northern Australia.
“Intentional Fire-Spreading by “Firehawk” Raptors in Northern Australia,” Bonta et al. Journal of Ethnobiology, 37(4) (abstract): https://t.co/JJVomc5zDy #ethnobiology #ethnoornithology #birds #fire pic.twitter.com/Bv4oSA6BpC
— Bob Gosford (@bgosford) January 1, 2018
According to these researchers, these birds will congregate in large numbers along burning fire fronts. They are not afraid to fly into the fires to move smoldering sticks out and up to 0.6 miles away, scorching regions that have not yet met the fires. Phillip Waipuldanya Roberts said in his 1964 autobiography that he had seen a hawk pick up a smoldering stick with its claws and drop it at least one half of a mile away on a dry patch of grass. After doing so he noted the bird waited to see the frightened food frenzy that followed. This passage was actually the inspiration for this whole study.
This is quite interesting, to say the least. What do you think about all of this? I for one find it to be quite mind-blowing, to say the least. These birds are doing something I would have never imagined they would in a million years and yet they have been doing it since before I even existed.
Image via How Stuff Works