Menu
Scroll to top
Topic: Black Kite
“Intentional Fire-Spreading by “Firehawk” Raptors in Northern Australia,” Bonta et al. Journal of Ethnobiology, 37(4) (abstract)

“Intentional Fire-Spreading by “Firehawk” Raptors in Northern Australia,” Bonta et al. Journal of Ethnobiology, 37(4) (abstract)

In a broader sense, better understanding of avian fire-spreading, both in Australia and, potentially, elsewhere, can contribute to theories about the evolution of tropical savannas and the origins of human fire use.

Fire hawk stories feature at Barrapunta bird workshop

Fire hawk stories feature at Barrapunta bird workshop

The workshop allowed for clarification of the rather confusing overlap of three bird names,  karrkkanj, ngalmirlangmirlang and wunwunbu. Karrkkanj, it turns out, is a term for the Black Kite but can also be applied to two other raptor species, the Peregrine Falcon and the Brown Falcon.

Talking Birds and Fire at the Barrapunta Bird Workshop, Arnhem Land, May 2017

Talking Birds and Fire at the Barrapunta Bird Workshop, Arnhem Land, May 2017

Karrkkanj is a term for the Black Kite but can also be applied to two other raptor species, the Peregrine Falcon and the Brown Falcon, Professor Evans explains. The Peregrine Falcon can also be known more specifically as ngalmirlangmirlang and the Brown Falcon as wunwunbu; these are said to be husband and wife. Karrkkanj is also ritually significant as the one who founded the Lorrkkon mortuary cycle.

‘Troublemakers for fire’ – Raptors spreading fire in Australian savanna woodlands

‘Troublemakers for fire’ – Raptors spreading fire in Australian savanna woodlands

Fire provides the opportunity for pyrophilic behaviour by some birds. Brown Falcons perch at the fire-front waiting for grasshoppers, frogs, snakes, lizards and small mammals. Whistling Kites and particularly Black Kites, Milvus migrans, spectacularly hawk around the curtain of flame, preying on grasshopper, cockroaches and other small fleeing animals. Local Aboriginal people believe that Brown Falcons and Black Kites set fires by carrying burning sticks to new locations and drop them into dry grass on unburnt grounds.

RIEL Seminar – Brown Falcon and Black Kite as propagators of fire in the Australian savanna

RIEL Seminar – Brown Falcon and Black Kite as propagators of fire in the Australian savanna

Anecdotal historical reports from qualified observers support the hypothesis that this is a hitherto-undocumented tool-using behavior that, if verified to satisfy the standards of Western ecologists, will have important ramifications for understanding pyrophytic landscape evolution as well as human-bird relationships.

Ornithogenic Fire: Raptors as Propagators of Fire in the Australian Savanna

Ornithogenic Fire: Raptors as Propagators of Fire in the Australian Savanna

There is compelling evidence that at least two raptor species – the Brown Falcon and the Black Kite – act as propagators of fire within the Australian savanna woodlands and perhaps in other similar biomes elsewhere

Birds of the week. Three Black Kites and a dead frog

Birds of the week. Three Black Kites and a dead frog

Three birds, a dead frog and a fire. A few hours at the site of a grass fire outside the small Gulf town of Borroloola.

Birds of the Week: Figbirds in a Figtree

Birds of the Week: Figbirds in a Figtree

Sometimes birds are hard to find. Sometimes not. Bob Gosford takes two steps from his bed and finds an ornithorium of wonder and beauty.

Bird(s) of the week: White-bellied Sea Eagle…and more

Bird(s) of the week: White-bellied Sea Eagle…and more

Earlier this week I drove out to the west coast of the NT’s Gulf of Carpentaria for work. On the first morning out bush I was lucky enough to be up before dawn and wandered down to the foreshore to see what might wander past and into my camera. I’d seen a pair of adult […]