National Geographic : 1956 Jul
I have found starlings among the most en thusiastic anters. Unlike most other birds, which usually clutch only a single ant in their bills at one time, they collect a sizable ball of the insects before caressing their wing and tail feathers (page 116). Usually the birds seem to eat the insects after stroking the feathers, though often they discard them. From time to time I have had photographs made of the birds in this odd activity. Sev eral months ago, with the cooperation of six photographer friends from Toronto, I set out on a more ambitious venture-to record bird anting in natural color. We used high-speed electronic flash lamps to "freeze" the swift action, as Bernard Corby and I previously had done in photographing bluebirds.* Birds Often Refuse to Perform We spent innumerable hours of patient, tiring work in cramped positions to obtain a comprehensive series of photographs showing the birds in the various attitudes they adopt while anting (pages 110, 111). Often our subjects only ate up our supply of ants. At * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Seeing Birds as Real Personalities," by Hance Roy Ivor, and "Bluebirds on the Wing in Color," by Bernard Corby and H. R. Ivor, both April, 1954. Cooperating in making the remarkable series of color photographs on anting accompanying this article were Robert F. Gunn, Reginald D. Corlett, Bruce R. Young, Risty Perotto, Sherbourne Drake, and Bristol Foster. Unu's Bill, + a Dainty Vise, Lightly Clamps an Ant Page 109: This slave-keep ing ant, Formica sanguinea, ejects formic acid. Some or nithologists believe that birds stroke ants against their feath ers to remove the acid before eating the insect. Others think the acid benefits the skin. To compound the enigma, B birds frequently use ants of species that do not excrete formic acid (page 114). More over, tame birds occasionally "ant" with such things as su mac berries or wild cherries. © National Geographic Society Bruce R. Young +A pine siskin visits Mr. Ivor at his desk. The author has maintained his songbird observatory for nearly a quar ter of a century. Many of his birds, such as this kibitzer, are completely trusting. Hhugh 31.Halliday other times, too many crowded into the nar row field covered by our camera lenses to allow us to show individual action. Unu, the blue jay, afforded us comic relief but often became a nuisance. A natural per former and complete extrovert, he hopped in and out of pictures, investigated the electronic lamps and cameras, and alighted on our shoulders and heads to tease for meal worms (pages 114, 115). When I tried to ignore him, he even plucked at my spectacle frames. Once, when Robert Gunn placed a quarter on the anting sod to focus his camera, Unu snatched up the coin and carried it to a high ledge. We had to use a stepladder to retrieve it. Finally, after obtaining a sequence of photographs of his anting, we exiled him to a cage while we worked with other birds. An overeager starling also had to be banished. In all, we obtained more than 250 photo graphs of various birds in almost every stage of anting. Although these photographs do not solve the mystery of why birds ant, they reveal vividly what the birds do, and they clear up many misconceptions among ob servers who have watched the rapid anting movements only by eye, often at long range. Audubon seems to have been first to men tion the attraction of birds to ants. Though he did not refer to anting in its accepted sense, he told how young turkeys rolled about in ant nests.