Birds of prey are suspected of deliberately starting fires to capture fleeing animals in the Australian Bush.
No other animal apart from man has been recorded as starting a fire deliberately.
At least two birds of prey – black kites and the brown falcon – swoop on burning twigs and embers and carry them to unburnt parts of the bush where they are thought to deliberately start bushfires, according to witnesses.
They then capture large insects, frogs and animals rushing to escape.
Researchers believe the raptors may be a ‘third force’ capable of starting bush fires – the others being man and lightning strikes.
Bob Gosford, a lawyer who works with indigenous peoples, and Mark Bonta, a scientist from Penn State have compiled a study of reports of flames jumping fire breaks, which have occurred because of the intervention of wild birds.
Mr Gosford told the IFL Science website: ‘Reptiles, frogs and insects rush out from the fire, and there are birds that wait in front, right at the foot of the fire, waiting to catch them.
‘Small fires often attract so many birds that there is insufficient fleeing prey for all, so a bird that was being beaten to its food might benefit from starting a new fire with less competition.’
The researchers found numerous accounts from Aborigines, several firefighters as well as 14 Bush rangers who reported birds carrying burning sticks.
The witnesses described how birds could carry smoldering sticks at least 150ft (46 metres) without the fire going out or singeing the bird.
Steve Debus, from the University of New England, an expert in predatory birds said he believed it would be difficult for researchers to distinguish between birds incidentally grasping burning twigs with prey and those deliberately picking them up.
‘However, I think black kites and brown falcons are sufficiently intelligent to intentionally spread fires by dropping burning embers, because black kites have been seen to drop bread scraps from picnic areas into nearby waterholes to bait fish within striking range.’ Dr Debus said.
Both brown falcons and black kites are widespread in Australia.
In 2014, London Fire Brigade officials reported that a fire in Stockwell, south London was started by a pigeon picking up a burning cigarette butt and dropping it in its nest on the roof of a house.
This article originally appeared on Daily Mail.