Australia is famously known for its profusion of dangerous animals that can cause harm to human life in a vast variety of forms, from deadly poisonings to vicious bites. There is one subset of creatures that have, until now, gone under the radar when it comes to being a threat to mankind.

Birds of prey, including falcons and kites, have recently been found to employ a tactic for catching prey that can also has a significant impact on human life. These large wild birds have been observed whilst stealing smoldering twigs and dropping these in dry bush areas to smoke out small birds, rodents, frogs, lizards and insects to capture and eat. Birds are thought to work both alone making either single or multiple attempts, or together in small groups. These flaming areas of arid ground can quickly grow into uncontrollable wildfires. It is now thought that these birds are the third biggest cause of bushfires, behind man and lightning.

The indigenous people of Australia have long believed in the power of predatory birds to spread fire, but it is only now that scientists have obtained evidence of this myth. The principle ornithologist working on this avian practice is, Bob Gosford, who has conducted research into this behaviour on three different continents, collecting eyewitness reports from farmers, scientists and firemen. The habits of these birds are now being factored into rangers’ fire management tactics and controlled experiments.

To date, these birds are the only creatures, other than humans that have been discovered to harness the power of fire.

Students aspiring to study Biological Science should investigate ways in which animals use natural and man-made resources to their benefit. Wannabe Anthropologists should consider the potential basis in fact of mythology.

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