There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that some species are active promoters of fire in the northern Australian savannah landscapes, using small fire-sticks and embers to spread fire throughout the open grass and woodlands of the semi-tropical north.
I’ve written on the subject of Birds & Fire – and their cultural connections – at The Northern Mythhere.
I’m excited to announce a call for observations from anyone interested in the behaviour of birds around fire and have today issued the following Media Release calling for comments and observations.
I’ve had a great response to this topic in the past and look forward to your further contributions or suggestions.
I’ll be presenting a paper at the upcoming 36th annual meeting of the Society of Ethnobiology – see more here.
My abstract for that paper follows:
Birds, Fire and Human Culture Australian Landscape
Time: Friday, 17 May 2013 – 11:20am – 11:40am
GOSFORD, Robert – Darwin, Australia. Ethnoornithology Research & Study Group
In this paper I will explore the relationship between birds and fire in the Australian mythical and physical landscape.
There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that some species – particularly raptors – are active promoters of fire in the northern Australian savannah landscapes, using small fire-sticks and embers to spread fire throughout the open grass and woodlands of the semi-tropical north.
There is also evidence of similar behaviour from other parts of the world, including Africa and the Americas.
I will briefly examine the fire-bird mythology of the Yanyuwa people, an Aboriginal language group from the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory, with a specific example of the propagation of fire on a landscape scale by one species of raptor.
This presentation concludes by speculating on the importance of this line of investigation.
On one hand, “ornithogenic” landscape modification by fire would necessitate a re-evaluation of our knowledge of historic landscape processes.
On the other hand, as an Australasian ‘myth’ states, it opens the possibility of fire manipulation by humans as a behavior learned from kites that could be comparable to weaving learned from spiders, flight based on birds, etc
And this is the media release:
ETHNOORNITHOLOGY RESEARCH & STUDY GROUP
BIRDS AND FIRE – A CITIZEN SCIENCE PROJECT
A Darwin-based ethno-ornithologist is asking for contributions from members of the public to an exciting new citizen science project that for the first time will examine the relationship between birds and fire in the Australian landscape.
Bob Gosford, moderator at the Ethnoornithology Study and Research Group, wants to hear from people with experiences and observations of birds and fire. “Birds and fire have long been linked in the Australian Aboriginal landscape and there are many accounts of birds – particularly Black Kites – carrying firesticks from the front line of wild-fires to spread those fires,” said Mr Gosford, “Now we are looking for more accounts from members of the public of this behaviour.”
“We think that the upcoming northern fire season will provide many opportunities for people to observe bird behaviour in and around fires. We would welcome any observations of birds carrying firesticks and spreading fires. We are particularly interested for observations from those that know fire best – the volunteer and professional fire-fighters and the many rangers that will spend the next few months fighting fires across the NT.”
“There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that some species – particularly raptors – are active promoters, preservers & users of fire in the Australian landscape,” said Mr Gosford.
“There has long been a belief that fire in the landscape is caused primarily by people and natural forces like lightning. But what if animals other than humans exhibit pyrophilic behavior?”
Next month Mr Gosford will travel to Texas in the USA to present a paper on the relationships between birds and fire in the Australian mythical and physical landscapes. Mr Gosford’s paper “Birds, Fire and Human Culture in the Australian Landscape” will be presented at the Society of Ethnobiology 36th Annual Conference at the University of North Texas.
Mr Gosford welcomes any reports of birds carrying firesticks – or any other interesting behaviour by birds related to fire – and can be contacted by email at [email protected]