Strange Bird Behaviour

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Could it be that birds use deodorant?

Submitted: July 29, 2016

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Submitted: July 29, 2016



The area of lawn in the front of our house is perhaps fifty metres by thirty, which makes it a good feeding ground for many bird species. The worm and grass grub eaters are all introduced British birds viz. Starlings, Thrushes and Blackbirds and there are always some birds out there, even Chaffinch and Dunnock looking for small seeds. While I don’t spy them in an ornithologist’s sort of way I do watch them out of natural curiosity.

It was last year that I first noticed a Starling picking up something, raising a wing and putting that something under there. It did it to both wings, and it did it several times. Other Starlings would approach and be chased off, but if the chance came, the others would do the same thing. Just like putting deodorant on! I went out to investigate what could have attracted the birds, and I found a small, black ants’ nest. I was sure it would have been ants that the birds were using but I had never hear of this happening.

I had no idea why they would do this, surely they’re conscious of body odour!

I tried to see them through the ‘scope of my rifle but I was unable to see if they crushed the ants, or let them go free. Letting them go free might suggest that somehow the ants control parasites, but without their nest, the ants are unlikely to survive very long. Another possibility is that the birds liked the feeling of the ants on their skin. Cats, dogs, horses, cattle, and sheep like to be petted from time to time and they rub on things.

Perhaps, I thought, if the ants are crushed, something is released, a deterrent to parasites, a soothing feeling or a preening oil.

This year, from time to time I see them doing the same thing and Starlings are not alone! A Tui was doing the same thing on the sandy area of ground beside their feeder. Because we feed them, the Tuis are fairly quiet, so I went to within a metre of this bird, but could not actually see what it was picking up.

After the bird had gone, I looked closely and there was not one ant, but there were a couple of holes that could well have been ant nest entrances. Close by there are native bee holes but they are big enough to see, and the season was too cold for them to be flying anyway.

I asked around and could find nobody among my cronies who had ever heard of this, so good old Mr. Google helped me out. I was correct to a certain point, the birds were anting! When ants are endangered or attacked, they release formic acid, which is an insecticide, and so yes they are controlling parasites! There are only two hundred bird species worldwide that do this!

Strange bird behavior indeed!



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