I have kept several mynas in my lifetime. One of these was a male Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) that I rescued from the cat as it landed on the ground during his maiden flight. This bird accompanied me almost everyday afternoons and evenings when I patrolled the condo looking for some animal or insect to observe.
At a very young age (it was still begging for food), the bird enjoyed a good bath, splashing water with its wings. That was when I placed him in the sink together with the ice cream box in which it was kept, and slowly ran the tap, intending to wash the tub and at the same time give the bird his first bath. But before I could do anything, he instinctively reacted to the water flowing beneath his feet. He dunked his chest in the water and splattered water all over the toilet. So much for bathing 101, this candidate was earmarked for direct PhD in bathing. Eventually I even placed him in a tub of water that was so deep that only his head was above the water level. The lure of a good bath never stopped him. But he was very cautious with water levels more than 3 inches deep.
We used to patrol the greenery around the condo together for his evening snacks. Anything I chased out from the grass, he would grab and eat it. Whenever there were other mynas around he would start a fight. With my help he would invariably win. One evening, he happened to walk over an ant mound. Initially intrigued by the ants, he later found them to be foul tasting and started to attack them. The ants responded by mobbing him and crawling all over his feathers. I had seen many young birds killed by ants and was a little concerned by the increasing number of ants crawling onto him. But as much as I tried to discourage him from mucking around with the ants, he kept at it, to stupidly stand right on top of the mound. His behaviour took me by surprise. Intermittent between his initial actions of attacking the ants, he suddenly prostrated himself on the ground, spread his wings and puffed up his plumage. I had thought that he had a few ant bites too many and was getting injured. But he appeared absolutely fine. So I stood by and observed for a while. After about two minutes of intense ‘anting’ he suddenly moved away from the ant mound and preened itself to get rid of the ants. All of a sudden his intense interest with the ant mound vanished and we were back looking for tasty afternoon snacks.
After that he would regular ‘ant’ itself once a week or less, probably because I gave him a daily bath.
The fact that this bird had never observed another ‘anting’ but seemed to know what to do with ants points in the fact that this behaviour seems to be innate, although wild birds seem to do it more professionally. My little ‘Sidewinder’, as I called him, apparently had some ideas of what ‘anting’ was all about, hard coded in his brain.
Contributed by Jeremy Lee