It’s called “anting,” and it is weird.

BIRDS CAN BE WEIRD SOMETIMES, and one of the weirdest things they’ve been known to do is called “anting.” Though the specifics can vary, at its most basic, anting involves birds rubbing ants on themselves. Till now, over 200 species of birds have been observed engaging in this behavior, and no one is entirely sure why they behave such dramatically .

It occurs when birds utilize ants in a stereotypical way.

Have you ever wondered why birds preen their feathers? We all have often watched birds taking dust baths or biting at their feathers and found ourselves puzzled at the reasons behind this common behavior.

Many children have taken notice of this common behavior and explaining to their parents that if birds can take a dirt-bath, they should be able to do the same.Point to be noted!

Preening is defined as grooming behavior performed by birds to maintain the health of their glossy feathers and soft skin. According to ornithologist, preening occupies much of a bird’s time, along with feeding, sleeping, and tending the nest. In many species, it has also become a part of some rituals of social behavior, such as marriage.

Anting appears to be widespread and common but not readily observed. Most information is anecdotal. More than 200 species of birds — mostly songbirds.

There are two types of anting, “active” and “passive.”


It typically involves a bird picking up ants and rubbing or jabbing them into the feathers, especially under the wings and tail. It is called “active anting”. During active anting, the wings are brought forward of the body and arched outward. The action is so rapid and vigorous that the bird will often knock itself over onto the ground.

According to one ornithologist, if you have seen a bird “ant” there is no possibility of you ever confusing the action with anything else.


In a second form of anting, called “passive” , a bird will spread its wings and sit down on an anthill, allowing the ants to crawl through its feathers.

Some common birds that ant

  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Wild Turkey
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Northern Flicker
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Gray Catbird
  • Veery
  • Wood Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Song Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • House Sparrow

leading scientists were refusing for long time to believe that anting occurred, dismissing it as impossible and funny theory. The function of anting has been debated for years. Proposed explanations have generally related to comfort behavior or feather maintenance.

A number of theories have to do with chemicals produced by the ants themselves. Many ant species observed to be used in anting behavior belong to the Formicinae subfamily, which produce formic acid when threatened. That formic acid could fuel the function of anting behavior in a number of ways.

One theory is that the acid created by the ants kills mites and other parasites that might try destroying roots of a bird’s feathers. Another possibility is that formic acid acts as natural balm, soothing the irritation caused by molting.Quite interesting.

Yet another function of anting, prey preparation, was suggested decades ago but didn’t gain momentum until more recently. The idea assumes that, during anting, the ants rid themselves of the formic acid in their poison glands, thus permitting the birds to eat them without harm.

The authors of the blue jay study argue that this hypothesis seems to be the most likely, since the birds they observed ate non-formic-acid-equipped ants without wiping them on their wings.

Finally, according to NPR and Vice, it’s possible that bird anting might just feel good. This theory argues that the formic acid produced by ants might act as a sort of stimulant for birds, and might even be addictive. In the 2011 book Field Guide to Urban Wildlife, author Julie Feinstein refers to formic acid as “bird catnip.”

Other studies have shown that anting helps birds protect themselves against infections caused by fungus and bacteria. Still other scientists believe that the ants and other objects have a soothing or pleasurable effect on the skin.

Opinion is still mixed as to whether birds are bathing in ant acid for food, cleanliness, fun, or some combination thereof. Complicating things further, birds have also been observed performing anting behavior with things other than ants, including beetles, millipedes, lemon rinds, and even cigarette butts. Yes , You read right, cigarette butts !

If the last theory turns out to be true, anting will be be available in our salons after all. And we all may be in line to try it out. haha!

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