A post that looks at our research into firespreading raptors in the Top End of Australia ... and beyond.
This has major ramifications for land use and conservation across Australia's northern savannahs and potentially beyond. Changed fire regimes by Europeans from those practiced for millennia by Aboriginal people wrought dramatic changes on the Australian landscape, a factor which imperilled (and continues to imperil) the existence of many native species. How do we account for birds as another potential fire vector?
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.
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
Is our landscape one shaped by humans and weather forces or might other agents - like birds - be in part responsible for the spread of fire across our landscapes? There are more questions here than answers...so far.