To: John Harris <>
Subject: Firebirds
From: David Rees <>
Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2019 04:32:16 +0000
Black kites are very widespread birds from here through south and central Asia, Africa and into southern Europe.  They are common in dry fire-prone areas and probably do the same elsewhere.

A quick search found other bizarre bird fire behaviour, this time involving crows in Japan, stealing lit candles from temples and causing fires. Have a PDF paper if anyone is interested.


On Fri, Feb 15, 2019 at 3:20 PM John Harris <> wrote:

I am glad science is at last recognising what Aboriginal people in the north have always known

Two years ago in the chatline in a string called ‘Raptor’, I wrote about Black Kites picking up fire.


I reproduce below what I wrote in 2017:


‘Firebird’ is the name often given to the Black Kite by Aboriginal people in the Top End of the Northern Territory, where I spent much of my life.  The Black Kite is certainly the most obvious Kite in the Northern Territory. They compete with crows as scavengers at rubbish tips and picnic areas and there used to be hundreds at a time around the abattoir. Their most interesting behaviour, however, is their association with fire. 

       Aboriginal people’s land management depends on fire and they set fire to certain areas very early in the fire season while the fire will still be ‘cool’. One of the functions of the cool early fire is to create firebreaks around the pockets of rainforest to protect medicinal plants and food plants. 

       Black Kites have evolved over thousands of years to take advantage of the opportunities offered during and after the fires and so they flock to these fires in large numbers. A common dry season scene in the Top End is a column of bushfire smoke with hundreds of circling Kites – Firebirds -  waiting the minimum possible time to swoop through smoke and flame onto burned lizards, small mammals and other charred delicacies. A curious related association is that the Red-tailed Black Cockatoos are often not far behind. They do not brave the flames like the Black Kites but they also arrive in flocks to eat the exposed seeds after the fire has cracked the woody shells. They may even like cooked grass seeds, I used to think.

       An intriguing thought is that Aboriginal people generally believe that the Firebirds - the Black Kites - purposely spread fire as a hunting technique. Many people I have spoken to in the more traditional communities in Eastern Arnhem Land report seeing Firebirds carrying glowing coals and dropping them in unburned grass. I personally do not doubt this. I wish I had actually witnessed it but I have to be honest and say I did not! BUT I have certainly seen them carrying a still-smoking mouse or lizard which could well ignite the grass if dropped. The evolutionary jump from picking up a smoking mouse to purposely picking up a glowing coal is not a big leap at all. 









From: Philip Veerman <>
Date: Friday, 15 February 2019 at 1:53 pm
To: chatline <>
Subject: RE: [canberrabirds] FW: May be of interest


The trailers on ABC TV for this series show a Black Kite picking up a burning stick, presumably to carry it and spread the fire. So I am interested to see that. This is something stated to have long been claimed by aboriginal people and long been not believed or considered with scepticism. Australian Birdlife 7(1):32-35 March 2018, discussed this but I don’t know of any film evidence of this before.




From: Geoffrey Dabb [
Sent: Friday, 15 February, 2019 1:23 PM
Subject: FW: [canberrabirds] FW: May be of interest


Yes Kym, of course I remember Charles.  A creative photographer.  Several on this list will know him.   Some great footage in that series.  However Barry Humphries’ hypnotic voice deserves a better script.     g



From: kym bradley <>
Sent: Friday, 15 February 2019 11:59 AM
To: Geoffrey Dabb <>
Subject: Re: [canberrabirds] FW: May be of interest


forgot again


magical land of oz on the ABC for charles


From: kym bradley <>
Sent: Friday, 15 February 2019 11:58 AM
To: Geoffrey Dabb
Subject: Re: [canberrabirds] FW: May be of interest




Another thing I forgot to mention


You would remember Charles Davis young chap lives on a property near Cooma


For the last couple of years I’ve been branching out into natural history films, the first of which starts this Sunday 7.40pm on ABC. My little part that I spent the most time on is in episode 3. Big shout out to @benjamin_cunningham_dop who unlike me actually knows how to use a cine camera.



From: Geoffrey Dabb <>
Sent: Friday, 15 February 2019 11:49 AM
Subject: [canberrabirds] FW: May be of interest


Thanks Kym.  Yes, this was on the morning ABC tv.  I am struck by the line ‘the Indian miner has reacted with anger …’ .   Gives a whole new meaning to ‘Myna Rage’.  Below a little experiment with Microsoft Publisher



From: kym bradley <>
Sent: Friday, 15 February 2019 11:27 AM
To: Geoffrey Dabb <>
Subject: May be of interest


Hi G


If you wish to share it with the chatline feel free they take no notice of what I post


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An endangered bird could derail Adani's controversial new coal mine in Queensland after a review found its ...



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