It's pretty hot in Australia right now. A brutal heatwave that's incinerated temperature records threatens devastating bushfires – and to make matters worse, authorities have to contend with an ancient breed of flying arsonists that may as well be miniature dragons.
A new study incorporating traditional Indigenous Australian
ecological knowledge describes the largely unknown behaviour of
so-called 'firehawk raptors' – birds that intentionally spread fire by
wielding burning sticks in their talons and beaks.
These flying firestarters are spread across at least three known species – the Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), and Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) – but while their hell-raising may be observed in Indigenous knowledge, that's not so elsewhere.
"Though Aboriginal rangers and others who deal with bushfires take
into account the risks posed by raptors that cause controlled burns to
jump across firebreaks, official skepticism about the reality of avian
fire-spreading hampers effective planning for landscape management and
restoration," the international team explains in their paper.