Birdwatching – Anting

Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus) Anting ©WikiC

Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus) Anting ©WikiC

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? (Luk 12:24 NKJV)

“For animals in the wild, the medicine cabinet seems at first glance to be pretty bare, and you might think they’re just left out in the cold when it comes to finding remedies. But even with the fallen nature of our world, the Creator hasn’t left untamed creatures, like the ravens that neither sow nor reap (Luke 12:24), defenseless against all the things that ail them. In fact, He’s stocked their “closets” with a cornucopia of cures.” (From Jungle Doctors)

One of those cures is the birds “Anting” behaviour.

Anting (Excerpts from The Birder’s Handbook, p.487)

“Many different songbird species have been observed picking up single ants or small groups and rubbing them on their feathers. Less commonly, other songbirds “ant” by spreading their wings and lying on an anthill, and squirming or otherwise stimulating the ants to swarm up among their feathers.

Because the seasonal timing of anting and molting (spring and summer) often correspond, some have suggested that anting may soothe the skin during feather replacement. It seems more likely that the seasonal relationship simply reflects the greater activity of ants during those periods.”

Anting (Excerpts from Wikipedia)

In the behavior called anting, birds rub insects on their feathers, usually ants, which secrete liquids containing chemicals such as formic acid, that can act as an insecticide, miticide, fungicide, bactericide, or to make them edible by removing the distasteful acid. It possibly also supplements the bird’s own preen oil. Instead of ants, birds can also use millipedes. Over 250 species of bird have been known to ant. Most of those are Passerines.

Many theories exits as to why the birds “ant.”

It has been suggested that anting acts as way of reducing feather parasites such as mites or in controlling fungi or bacteria, although there has been little convincing support for any of the theories. It is possible that the use of certain kinds of ants indicates the importance of the chemicals they release. Some cases of anting involved the use of millipedes or caterpillars, and these too are known to release powerful defensive chemicals.

Another suggested function, based on observation of Blue Jays, is that the bird makes the insects edible, by discharging the harmful acid onto their feathers. The birds were found to show anting behaviour only if the ants had a full acid sac, and with subjects whose acid sacs had been experimentally removed, the behaviour was absent.

Finally, it has also been suggested that anting is related to feather moulting. However, the correlation may also be attributed to the greater activity of ants in summer.

Dusting with soil from ant-hills has been considered by some as equivalent to anting.

Some birds like Antbirds and Flickers not only ant, but also consume the ants as an important part of their diet. Other opportunist ant-eating birds include Sparrows, Wrens, Grouse and Starlings.



Anting (Excerpts from Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds, pps 19-20)

“John James Audubon published the first known reference to this habit in his Ornithological Biography (1831), in which he wrote of watching wild turkeys roll in ants’ nests ‘to clear their growing feathers of loose scales, and prevent ticks and other vermin from attacking them, these insects being unable to bear the odor of the earth in which ants have been.’ ”

Here are some of the birds listed in this section:

The turkeys mentioned, plus “crows; starlings and Indian mynas, magpie lark, gray thrush, Pekin robin, house sparrow, manakin and apostlebird in Australia; a Magpie in Britain; Grackles, Blue Jay, pekin robin, gray catbird, American robin, wood thrush, hermit thrush, veery, cedar waxwing, bobolink, Baltimore oriole, cardinal, rose-breasted grosbeak, black-headed grosbeak, indigo bunting, dark-eyed junco, Harris’ sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, fox sparrow, and song sparrow in America”;

“Others seen in the wild anting are: scarlet tanagers, summer tanagers, towhees…, others.” (Lack off capitalization is from the book)

Lee’s Additon:

But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; And the birds of the air, and they will tell you; (Job 12:7 NKJV)

It appears that the birds were given instincts or knowledge, by their Creator, to protect themselves from pests and irritation. That would be a possible answer they might give us, if we were to question them. If these birds evolved, then it appears that they had to develop this habit in each country and area where the birds “ant.” Huh? As for me, I opt for a Creator giving them that knowledge rather than a chance behaviour happening in so many places.




Anting – Wikipedia

Jungle Doctors (Scroll down to “Rubbing It In”) – Answers in Genesis


Birds of the Bible


6 thoughts on “Birdwatching – Anting

  1. Pingback: Fascinating wildlife fact #8: Corvids use ants to get rid of parasites | Wild South

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