Some birds have a reputation that precedes themselves. Take the poor dodo, for instance. This extinct bird is synonymous with being somewhat clunky and slow, and it’s not even around to defend its reputation anymore. And nobody is going to argue that eagles are anything but fierce and impressive. But if you’re looking for a type of bird that’s both majestic and regal, but has a secret hidden talent that isn’t found in any other species, then you need to take a closer look at the firehawk. A bird that’s native to Australia, the firehawk (which is also known by its more common name, the black kite) has a unique skill set that makes it stand apart from all other feathered animals. What makes it so remarkable? Let’s just say that it’s pretty darn cool…because of how it uses heat to its advantage!
The Land of Fire
At any given time, up to 75 percent of our beautiful planet’s tropical grasslands are on fire. Sadly, Australia is especially vulnerable to these devastating wildfires. These fires are typically caused by a variety of factors, including lightning storms and human carelessness. Unfortunately, these wildfires can be incredibly destructive to the inhabitants of this country. Not only can they wipe out vast acres of land, but they can also completely destroy local villages, too. While these fires are terrible for the land and the people of Australia, however, it’s an absolute feeding frenzy to the birds of prey that live there.
Birds of Prey
When fires are ravaging the land, entire ecosystems can quickly become wiped out. Animals of all shapes and varieties – including those that fly, crawl, run, and hop – flee from the fires in a panic. These poor animals are only thinking about their survival, but while they’re running away, there is another animal that is also watching these fires extremely closely. These crafty birds have only one thing on their mind: their next meal. So as the flames are steadily working their way across the Australian outback, these firehawks are shrewdly monitoring the path of the retreating animals. Through years of evolution, and from watching the hunting behaviors of their parents, these highly intelligent birds have learned that if they follow the path of the flames, they won’t ever have to worry about going hungry.
The Winged Flamethrower
Of course, some birds are perfectly content to watch the fires and enjoy an assortment of small morsels in the process. Firehawks, though? They’re not the type of raptor to sit by idly and wait for the food to come to them. Sure, they could wait until a fire occurs naturally and bide their time until the feeding is bountiful. But that’s not good enough for the firehawk. They’ve decided to take matters into their own hands. Or, rather, their own claws.
Firehawks are, to put it lightly, highly intelligent. They know the source of fire and, from watching these fires occur on such a frequent basis, they also know what causes it to spread. They have learned that if they pick up a smoldering stick in their talons and fly off with it, they can drop it in a place that hasn’t yet been affected by the wildfires. The firehawk then releases the stick into a thicket of branches or leaves and waits for it to ignite. Once it does, they swoop in on all of the animals that they’ve roused from their hiding spots.
Legend of the Firehawk: Myth or Fact?
Are these incredible birds really just firebugs in disguise? Have they actually developed the skill to start fires themselves, then reap the rewards of their arsonist efforts? While it’s definitely an impressive story to share, the jury is still out on whether or not firehawks are, in fact, setting fires in Australia’s savannahs. That said, there have been many eyewitness accounts of their actions. Scores of locals have reported their observations to the scientific community, and numerous researchers have borne witness to them, too. There have even been a few homemade videos of them doing it, as well, but scientists have reported that the quality is grainy at best and not usable. Until we know for sure, though, we’re just all going to have to agree. There are really no other birds that are as thoroughly astounding as the firehawk, the pyromaniac of the Land Down Under.