How to Be a Clean Bird

Believe it or not, no one likes to be dirty, not even animals! So, while we are lathering on the soap, birds may be anting! Author Darcy Pattison captured Anting and other mysterious bathing rituals in her book Desert Baths, illustrated by Kathleen Reitz.

What is Anting?

Anting is a peculiar ritual where birds sit on an anthill, wings spread wide, and either let the bugs crawl through their feathers and skin, or they pick up insects with their beaks and rub them on their body. The excitement of the event causes certain species of ants to release formic acid.

Of the more than 200 types of birds observed anting, some finish the bath by eating the ants while others leave the ants without dining. And while scientists have several theories on why birds “ant”, they can only agree that it is a mysterious behavior.

The theories range from a hypothesis that the acid kills mites and parasites bothering the bird. Others surmised that it has soothing properties and can give relief to irritated skin. One theory suggests that the birds are draining the ants of their acid, making them a less dangerous snack. And one study observed birds hopping while anting suggesting that the ants may be like a “catnip for birds.”

Whatever the reason, if you come upon a crow or a blue jay anting stop to watch, it is a behavior not often witnessed by humans.

Celebrate international bath day with us and read Desert Baths. Check it out!

And for more information on anting here are a few resources we used to write this article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/curious-crow-behavior-known-as-anting-looks-like-violent-dirt-bath-1.6053823?cmp=rss, https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/mystery-bird-anting.

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