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Migratory bird populations have taken a nose dive in the past 40 years. But you can help bring their numbers back by creating beneficial, beautiful and fun habitats in your own backyard. Discover favorite plants and environments that shelter and feed colorful songbirds, as well as how to make them feel welcome by offering their preferred natural foods.

Grandma Pearl
(Connie Smith)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Anting: Ancient, Mysterious Bird Ritual

What do robins, marigolds, cigarette butts and ants have in common? 
Male Robin hunting, possibly for ants?
Photo by Grandma Pearl
 Add to this list:  lemons, limes and mothballs.  Any ideas?
Lemons, limes and marigolds grow in a garden, are all natural; but then what about the cigarette butts, mothballs and ants.  Any guesses yet?
I won’t keep you wondering any longer.  All of these seemingly disjointed objects are used in a mysterious ritual known as “anting”.  What in the world is “anting”, you ask?

You know, for as long as I can remember, when referring to people who are less than average in intelligence, the phrases ‘bird brain’ and ‘feather brain’ are routinely employed. The birds and I take exception to this!   In fact, birds often demonstrate their aptitude for performing tasks, playing with found objects, and using tools!
Blue Jays are noted for using ants to spray their feathers; and they love to eat the little critters as well!
Photo by Grandma Pearl

Anting demonstrates just such a use of ‘tools’.  Birds use live ants to ‘squirt’ formic acid onto their feathers.  There are a couple of theories as to the real purpose of “anting”, which is used by over 200 species of birds.   Some believe it is a form of prey preparation.  Birds somehow realize that before consuming them, it is best to empty the poison sac the ants carry in their abdomen.  By squeezing the ant in just the right place, birds avoid damaging the ‘crop’ or nutritious abdomen, and a possible painful attack from the business end of the ant’s pincers.  When the ant feels the ‘pinch’, its defense system goes into ‘red alert status’, and out from its poison sac comes formic acid.   After combing its feathers, the bird can then safely enjoy a tasty ant hors d’oevre!

There are 2 schools of thought on the reason behind the ritual of 'anting'.  Food preparation and natural insecticide.  Read more . . .

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