Fire-Starting Birds

Photo Credit – Vivek Joshi

Anyone who has observed or read about birds knows that they are highly intelligent. Corvids and parrots are among the most intelligent, able to solve complex puzzles and use tools. Other bird species have their strengths too. Among them are black kites, brown falcons, and whistling kites. They live in Australia’s tropical savanna and use fire as a tool. They are aptly nicknamed firehawks.

These birds are often found on the edges of wildfires having a feast as insects and small animals try to flee from the blaze. Not only that, people have observed these birds carrying burning sticks in their talons or beaks to different unburned patches of dry grass and dropping them to start a new fire. As the fire grows, the birds wait for the panic of their prey and then the feeding frenzy begins. After an area burns, the birds move on to a new area.

Aboriginal people have observed this behavior for thousands of years. And while it is well documented that these birds take advantage of fires for finding food, some people do question whether the birds are intentionally setting the fires. Scientific data and documentation are lacking. More scientific research is underway, but my money’s on the birds.