(ANTIMEDIA) Australia — It appears human beings aren’t alone in their ability to control fire. A recently published study that compiled accounts from indigenous peoples of Australia’s Northern Territory reveals that at least three species of predatory bird actually start fires to aid in their hunts.
These accounts of so-called “firehawk” raptors — the black kite, the whistling kite, and the brown falcon — describe the birds using their beaks and talons to transport burning branches from existing brush fires to other locations. The fire and smoke from these newly-set fires cause prey to flee, exposing them to the predators.
What’s more, the raptors actually appear to work in coordination with one another, as study co-author Bob Gosford explained to the Washington Post back in 2016.
“It’s not gratuitous,” said Gosford, an ethnobiologist and ornithologist. “There’s a purpose. There’s an intent to say, okay, there are several hundred of us there, we can all get a meal.”
Gosford was first inspired to conduct the research after stumbling upon a passage from I, the Aboriginal, a 1964 autobiography of Waipuldanya Phillip Roberts compiled by an Australian journalist.
“I have seen a hawk pick up a smouldering stick in its claws and drop it in a fresh patch of dry grass half a mile away,” Roberts wrote, “then wait with its mates for the mad exodus of scorched and frightened rodents and reptiles.”
Indeed, lead study author Mark Bonta made it clear to National Geographic that his team hasn’t uncovered anything that wasn’t already known to Australia’s Aboriginals.
“We’re not discovering anything,” said Bonta, a geographer at Penn State University. “Most of the data that we’ve worked with is collaborative with Aboriginal peoples…They’ve known this for probably 40,000 years or more.”
Bonta’s team notes in the study that the behavior of these firehawks is “often represented in sacred ceremonies” of Aboriginal peoples and “widely known” to those of the Northwest Territory.
In addition to shedding light on some truly interesting aspects of animal behavior, the research team also hopes their findings will offer new insights into wildfire management. After all, fire-starting birds aren’t typically considered alongside the two traditional culprits of lightning and human action.