The Aussie Birds Burning Bush

Eyewitnesses have seen birds spreading bushfires

For centuries Indigenous Australians have talked of birds spreading bushfires, and while there’s been a lot of speculation no proof has surfaced to validate the story.

Bob Gosford, a Northern territory ornithologist, has made his duty to prove the story.

“Black kites and brown falcons come to these fronts because it is just literally a killing frenzy, it's a feeding frenzy because out of these grasslands come small birds, lizards, insects, everything fleeing the front of the fire."

Gosford explains his interest began in 1964 after reading a book by Indigenous Australian, Phillip Roberts who recounted his experience seeing a bird picking up a stick from the front of the fire and then flying over unburnt grass and dropping it essentially spreading the bush fire.

Image: Black Kite

Gosford investigated the account, but could not find any evidence to support the story.  Instead of dismissing the account, Gosford decided to dive deeper and explore further to bridge the gap between mainstream ornithology and traditional knowledge. So far in his 10 or so years of research, he has worked in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guniea, Africa and Central America to further understand and capture the practice.

"When I talked to Aboriginal people about it later, they said, 'Well that's what the birds do, that bit in the ceremony is us telling the story to those people that don't know, about this is how these birds behave.”

Though Mr. Gosford has not seen the rare occurrence, 16 members of the public stepped forward to say they had seen the rather unusual practice.

The eye witnesses included stockmen, firefighters, researchers and one retired anthropologist, Kim Ackerman.

Mr. Ackerman claims to have seen a black kite spreading fire in June 1977 when he was on site in the middle of central Kimberley.

A black kite was swooping down and picking up burning twigs and things and carrying them 15, 20 feet and dropping them again into grass and spinifex ahead of it.

Ackerman believes that the bird does this to flush out more prey.

Gosford is determined to capture the procedure on camera.

"If my work shows that their work is even more valuable because of the knowledge that those rangers have, not just of their own culture but also of the country, and of the species that live in it, then I'm more than happy with that result."

Header: Shutterstock

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