Anting: Another way of Bathing

By Dave Hanks

I sit watching a Roadrunner. It’s a species of southwestern, dry grasslands or desert scrub. It is 23 inches long with a long tail that it continually “flicks” up and down. While sitting on a lookout perch, it can easily spot small prey (mainly lizards and snakes) which are then quickly grabbed and consumed. This bird often sits very still and fluffs up the feathers on its back - thus facilitating sun bathing. The resulting gray coloration, blending in with the gray earth, has a camouflaging effect. If you put suet in a feeding tray, upon the ground, you can lure him into your campsite.

As I sit watching the bird, I notice a cloud of dust over its body. It is lying on a pile of dirt and giving it a good stirring. I am reminded that birds have more than one way to bathe. Using water is the obvious mode – dusting is another. The dust helps rid the bird of parasites. But the most interesting and unusual method is called “Anting.”

“Anting” involves lying on an ant hill and letting the ants crawl through the bird’s feathers. The ants are searching for prey – parasites. Birds will also grasp an ant, crushing it in their beak, and then rub the ant up and down its feather shafts. The formic acid released from this action serves as a parasite repellant. Nature has some fascinating and unique ways of accomplishing her schemes.

	There he is!
	  Streaking through the Creosote
	    Body hunched down as he scoots along
	      Brown and speckled with a blotched, streaked chest
	        Pheasant-like head, body, and tail
	          Post sitter – Brush climber – Ground master – Lizard eater
	            Sometimes so very wary - Sometimes so very tame
	              He stops and cocks an eye
	                A perky, feathered streak! 

(The Greater Roadrunner)