Fire birds

Several bird species have been implicated in the spread of wildfire in Australia.


Just a short post today. Several species of bird stake out wildfires. They do this because their prey on the ground, trying to escape the flames, are easy pickings. So birds like the whistling kite will actually fly towards smoke in the hopes of a quick meal. And some birds take it further.

Fire breaks are a great way to stop the spread of wildfire: a controlled burn leaves a gap in vegetation that the forest fire cannot bridge… unless it gets some help. Several species of birds in northern Australia have actually been observed picking up burning sticks and carrying them over fire breaks. In other words, they spread the fires further to increase their chances of catching food. Incredible.

The culprits are three species: the black kite, the whistling kite, and the brown falcon. They’ve been doing this for long enough to have been incorporated into Aboriginal mythologies as fire spreaders. In fact, Aboriginal peoples have a whole body of knowledge about fire management: the Noongar, for example, have been conducting controlled burns for a very long time (the so-called “cold fire”), so they would know.

[Thanks to Gareth E. for suggesting this topic.]

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