Low Angle View Of Silhouette Bird Flying Against Orange Sky. Photo: Putra Kurniawan / EyeEm (Getty).
Imagine this story. You’re backpacking through the Australian outback, enjoying the beautiful scenery of the northern savannas and refreshing sunshine on vacation. Before you know it, fire begins raining from the sky and lays waste to much of the ecosystem around you, throwing your holiday into chaos. You look up to the sky expecting to find some form of apocalypse beginning, only to discover predatory birds hovering above you.
In a study conducted by the Journal of Ethnobiology, a group of six authors including Mark Bonta and Erana Loveless, these scientists found that a few species of Raptor (colorfully referred to as “Firehawk” Raptors) are intentionally spreading fires throughout the Australian savannas.
This group of species is made up of the fire-foraging predators Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) and Brown Falcon (Falco berigoria), all of which originate from tropical areas throughout the country. The majority of reports of these raptors’ fire-spreading has come from the Northern Territory, while some reports have also come out from Western Australia and Queensland.
The purpose of the study was to help various facets of the country better prepare for both quick suppression of the fires set by these birds and future land management and recovery following these fires. While acknowledging the skepticism many officials hold in regard to “avian fire-spreading,” the researchers do believe that further study can help develop hypotheses for how to better help the “evolution of tropical savannas,” as well as a deeper understanding of when humans first began using fire.