Intentional Fire-Spreading by "firehawk" Raptors in Northern Australia

Mark Andrew Bonta, Robert Gosford, Dick Eussen, Nathan Ferguson, Erana Loveless, Maxwell Witwer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

10 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We document Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and non-Indigenous observations of intentional fire-spreading by the fire-foraging raptors Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), and Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) in tropical Australian savannas. Observers report both solo and cooperative attempts, often successful, to spread wildfires intentionally via single-occasion or repeated transport of burning sticks in talons or beaks. This behavior, often represented in sacred ceremonies, is widely known to local people in the Northern Territory, where we carried out ethno-ornithological research from 2011 to 2017; it was also reported to us from Western Australia and Queensland. 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. Via ethno-ornithological workshops and controlled field experiments with land managers, our collaborative research aims to situate fire-spreading as an important factor in fire management and fire ecology. 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)700-718
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Ethnobiology
Volume37
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

Fingerprint

birds of prey
Milvus migrans
landscape management
savannas
restoration
ecology
fire ecology
fire break
cooperative research
manager
falcons
Northern Territory
Falco
beak
claws
planning
cause
wildfires
experiment
Western Australia

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Anthropology
  • Plant Science

Cite this

Bonta, M. A., Gosford, R., Eussen, D., Ferguson, N., Loveless, E., & Witwer, M. (2017). Intentional Fire-Spreading by "firehawk" Raptors in Northern Australia. Journal of Ethnobiology, 37(4), 700-718. https://doi.org/10.2993/0278-0771-37.4.700
Bonta, Mark Andrew ; Gosford, Robert ; Eussen, Dick ; Ferguson, Nathan ; Loveless, Erana ; Witwer, Maxwell. / Intentional Fire-Spreading by "firehawk" Raptors in Northern Australia. In: Journal of Ethnobiology. 2017 ; Vol. 37, No. 4. pp. 700-718.
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Bonta, MA, Gosford, R, Eussen, D, Ferguson, N, Loveless, E & Witwer, M 2017, 'Intentional Fire-Spreading by "firehawk" Raptors in Northern Australia', Journal of Ethnobiology, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 700-718. https://doi.org/10.2993/0278-0771-37.4.700

Intentional Fire-Spreading by "firehawk" Raptors in Northern Australia. / Bonta, Mark Andrew; Gosford, Robert; Eussen, Dick; Ferguson, Nathan; Loveless, Erana; Witwer, Maxwell.

In: Journal of Ethnobiology, Vol. 37, No. 4, 01.12.2017, p. 700-718.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

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Bonta MA, Gosford R, Eussen D, Ferguson N, Loveless E, Witwer M. Intentional Fire-Spreading by "firehawk" Raptors in Northern Australia. Journal of Ethnobiology. 2017 Dec 1;37(4):700-718. https://doi.org/10.2993/0278-0771-37.4.700