My old mate Alec Chisholm (sadly deceased some 30 years ago) devotes a whole
chapter of his book "Bird !Wonders of Australia" (Angus & Robertson, 1948)
to this subject: "Why do Birds "Ant" themselves?" (pages 163-175).
You may be able to find a copy in a library, but I think it reasonable to
quote Chisholm's second and third paragraphs here:
"Although apparently deep-seated, the habit of applying ants to plumage,
practised by birds in various countries, seems to have almost entirely
escaped attention until recent years. One or two brief references to the
subject appeared at rare intervals during the last century, but none of them
was followed up. Not until 1934 did an inquiry of any persistence begin,
and then the stimulus was provided by a boy, an Australian of twelve years,
who paused in his play to watch the strange behaviour of European Starlings.
"Since that time detailed discussion of the problem has been undertaken
by ornithologists representing four continents and at least eight nations;
and in the same period several scores of instances of "anting"- many in
freedom but most in aviaries - have been recorded."
Chisholm was Editor-in-Chief for the 1958 Angus & Robertson "Australian
Encyclopaedia" (in 10 volumes) and he also contributed the article on
"Anting" (Vol. 1, pp 209/210).
There is a short article, "The Adaptive Significance of Anting" by Paul R.
Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye of Stanford University, in the
October 1986 issue of "Auk". The first para reads:
"The function of anting has been controversial. Anting may be an
auto-erotic act (Whitaker 1957; but see Simmons 1966),or it may soothe skin
irritated during the early stages of feather growth *(Potter 1970). More
reasonably, may help in feather maintenance by supplementing preen oil,
helping to remove stale lipids, or combatting ectoparasites (Simmons 1985).
The anti-ectoparasite function is also suggested by at least one observation
of a Jungle Mynah (Acridotheres fuscus) "anting" with a millipede (Clunie
1976). Millipedes produce powerful defensive secretions that are effective
against arthropods Monto et al. 1962, Schildkenecht et al. 1967) and other
> From: "Paul Dodd" <>
> Date: Wed, 10 Feb 2010 18:09:12 +1100
> To: "'Birding Aus'" <>
> Subject: [Birding-Aus] Urban? Rural? Myths
> Koori member of staff told her, in passing, that WW Choughs were regarded as
> a special bird because they picked up ants and stuck them under their wings
> to collect the parasites that the birds picked up.
> Can anyone shed any light on the veracity of this statement? If it isn't
> true, then does anyone have any idea where the story may have come from?
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