National Geographic : 1956 Jul
Enthusiastic Unu Helps a Photographer Get Close to His Subject Alighting on Robert Gunn's camera, the uninhibited bird blocks the view finder. Later, when Mr. Gunn placed a quarter on the ground to check his focus, Unu swooped down, snatched up the coin, and whisked it to a ledge high overhead. Banishment soon followed. W. Robert Moore, National Geographic Staff 115 ing liquid with an odor somewhat like that of cit ronella. On a number of occa sions I have experimented also with dormant carpen ter ants (Camponotus), a large black species of which I dug from fallen logs in winter. The dormant ants obviously were unable to excrete their acid on the birds' head feathers. Yet the birds anted with them in the same manner as with active ants (page 113). The popular belief that birds ant to rid them selves of parasites also poses many questions. Were anting done to en able the ants physically to seize the parasites, the chance of their doing so, it seems to me, would be exceedingly scant. If it were done in order that the formic acid or other ant substance might destroy or drive away the parasites, the bird would rub deep under its wings and other parts of its body where parasites are most likely to gather. I have watched many antings closely, even to having one of my orioles perform while perched on my hand, but I have yet to see birds apply the ants to their bodies. It would certainly be much easier for them to place the ants on or among the body feathers than to contort themselves into the absurd positions they do. Our photographs show the birds applying the ants only to the under side of the wing quills and tail feathers, and apparently to the under tail coverts. Yet there can be exceptions. Lovie M. Whitaker, of Norman, Oklahoma, has written to me that her orchard oriole has applied ants to the front of the legs on the feathers just above the heel bend, and also to the belly. Such exceptions, however, must be rare and an individual characteristic of the particular bird. I have never seen my orioles rub the insects against their legs. Most Birds Resist Crawling Ants While birds seem to derive an exaltation from anting, few small passerine birds will tolerate ants crawling over them. Whenever I have seen ants crawl onto the legs of my songbirds, the birds picked at the ants, as if trying to get rid of them, or flew away.