Crow anting in an anthill

posted in: Crows, Feathers-maintenance | 5

Through regular visits to a park in Amsterdam, Levina de Ruijter manages to bond with a resident crow. Whenever she arrives, the crow would come to greet her, following her around, sometimes coming close.

Recently when Levina was photographing some young coots, the crow suddenly landed close by with a juvenile in tow. The juvenile suddenly ran towards a patch of grass and dived in, with wings spread and began to what appeared to be preening (above). Note that the eye is covered with the protective bluish nictitating membrane LINK.

What it was actually doing was anting – allowing ants to swarm over its feathers to get rid of ectoparasites. This is one of the various methods birds adopt to keep their feathers in top form LINK. The image above shows the ants swarming all over its head.

Suddenly it jumped up and ran towards another anthill (above) and dived in. It had its head among in the anthill (below), causing the angry ants to swarm all over it.

It’s wings were spread out and vibrating (below).

The ants were swarming all over the body (below). The juvenile was standing still, allowing the ants to do their work. The adult stood in the background keeping close watch.

“At first I was a bit alarmed, now knowing what was going on,” wrote Levina, “but the fella was quite clearly in bliss! Having his entire eye, or just his second eyelid closed, pinching his eyes etc. Later, when I saw the images on my computer screen, I knew for sure: ants! In other words, he was anting, i.e. stir up ants so they get agitated and secrete some kind of acid [formic acid] that kills the bird’s parasites.”

Note: This account was first posted in the Canon Digital Photography Forum, Photography-on-the-net and appears here through the courtesy of Levina de Ruijter.

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Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

5 Responses

  1. Lara Joseph

    What an awesome capture. I worked with a blue jay that I was training for a local wildlife rehabilitation center and saw him do this with ants in the back yard. This is the best documentation I have been able to find. Kudos Levina.

  2. Valentino Brooks

    Article on anting is very interesting. I also want to say.”You gotta Love a Cockatoo”!

  3. Bird Ecology Study Group Pin-striped Tit-babblers in a public bath house

    […] Anting: A few species of birds pick up ants LINK and place them on their feathers so that the agitated ants release formic acid that kill off lice and mites that have the potential to damage the feathers. Sometimes birds also use millipedes, snails, beetles and wasps instead of ants. Crows especially, have been observed to lie on ants’ nest, allowing the ants to swarm all over them to do the job LINK. […]

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