Bird behaviour: Anting

It was a quiet day today with little bird activity to photograph, I was ready to call it a day when a Rook appeared and landed on the harbour wall nearby. It immediately took an interest in a particular spot and began acting rather strangely, dragging its wings against the ground and then turning to preen it’s feathers in an almost trance like state. A pair of Jackdaw soon followed, curious to see what the Rook had found but were soon chased off by the larger bird.

A rook investigating an ants’ nest

The Rook’s strange behaviour is known as as ‘anting’, where a bird will deliberately disturb an ants nest and allow the angry insects to swarm all over them as they defend their home.

Rook preening it’s wing feathers
Rook spreading ants into it’s plumage

The Rook allowed the ants to climb up it’s legs and into it’s feathers, it also appeared to pick up several ants it’s beak and rub them on to it’s feathers before eating them.

Eating the ants

It is thought that when the ants are disturbed they defend themselves by spraying formic acid as their attacker. It is thought that this acid acts as an insect repellent, ridding birds of certain parasites, although the exact reason behind the behaviour is still a cause for debate.

You can see just spot the ants at the Rook’s feet in this video, as the crawl out of their home in a crevice in the wall.

This anting behaviour is seen in many species of birds, in particular members of the Corvid family such as crows and rooks, as well as some species of smaller birds such as starlings, blackbirds and thrushes.

Here is a male blackbird I photographed several years ago, performing the same anting behaviour.

Blackbird anting

All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography 2018 ©

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