“At or around an active fire front, birds – usually black kites, but sometimes brown falcons – will pick up a firebrand or a stick not much bigger than your finger and carry it away to an unburnt area of grass and drop it in there to start a new fire,” says Bob Gosford, an ornithologist with the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, who led the documentation of witness accounts. “It’s not always successful, but sometimes it results in ignition.”
“Observers report both solo and cooperative attempts, often successful, to spread wildfires intentionally via single-occasion or repeated transport of burning sticks in talons or beaks. This behaviour, often represented in sacred ceremonies, is widely known to local people in the Northern Territory,” write the authors behind the find in the Journal of Ethnobiology.
Perhaps, there could be a sub-category of birds of prey: firestarters!