Bird anting behavior theories and reasearch

Anting Behavior in Birds

January 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

Anting is a form of bird behavior that has yet to be explained by researchers and scientists. Even though hundreds of bird species engage in anting all over the world, no-one has been able to confirm the reason why birds choose to do so.

Anting can take on different forms. Some birds will pick up ants in their beaks and rub the ant over their feathers, after which they eat the ant; while others will open their wings and lie down over an active anthill and allow ants to climb up onto them. But it does seem that one part of anting remains consistent: birds prefer using ants that produce formic acid. Ants use the formic acid their bodies produce as a defense mechanism, which they spray at their attackers, but at the same time provides birds with a certain something that scientists would love to discover.

One theory on anting is that the formic acid could be used as a fungicide, bactericide and as an insect repellent, while others choose to believe that it is the vitamin D content in the acid that birds are after. This leads to another unanswered question: why do birds sometimes use alternative anting tools, such as millipedes and fruit? Some scientists believe that anting is used to preen feathers and helps prevent the drying out of their plumage, but then one again has to ask, that if only some birds include anting in their behavior, could preening really be the answer? Another suggestion that has been made is that anting has an intoxicating effect, as some birds have been known to shake and lose control over their ability to walk. Anting has been documented in a variety of species including crows, babblers, weavers, owls, turkeys, waxbills and pheasants to name but a few. And for all the research done and no lack of theories, it seems the human race will have to be satisfied with the fact that the mystery behind anting might elude us forever, and remain a small secret that nature is not willing to share.

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