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Bird Watching Stories
(Go Back to Wild Bird Page Contents)
»  Aransas in the Fog:
Whooping Cranes
» No Barbeque this Summer 
» Barn Swallow "Mama"  
» Just How Does a Bird Eat Bees?  
» My Birdwatching Adventures in Costa Rica
 » Just Another Golden Eagle  
 » Four Birds in One Tree: 
A Few Days of Birdwatching in England
» Four Calling Birds??? 
» A Very Unique Cardinal 
» Narcissism or Territorial
Defense: Macho Cardinal
» The Last Companion Carolina Paroquet 
» The Ever-Popular Chickadee  
» Convergent Evolution: Meadowlark and Longclaw 
» Barrel Cactus Confrontation 
» Galahs Playing Around and Around and Around ...  
» Who Made Up This Stuff?
Bird Call Mnemonics
» Mesmerizing a Goldfinch 
» The Best Mimic?  
» Prairie Chickens and Woodcocks:
Missouri Ornithology
» Mob Mentality: Who is Really in Control of the Skies?
» The Owl Who Sat Down Beside Me 
» Meeting Hot Shot: The Toddler Peregrine Falcon  
» Seeing 'Sea Parrots'
in Alaska
 » A Rare and Unusual Bird 
Meeting Roger Tory Peterson
» Raven Showoffs 
» Reddish Egrets a nd Canopy Feeding 
 »  Robins and Worms 
Hear, See, Smell, or Feel?
» Hospital Halucinations 
» What Are You Doing Here? Scissortail Flycatcher 
» Wild Bird "Attacks": Just Misunderstandings? 
» Drunken Waxwings and an Unusual Hummingbird Feeder
 » Acorn Woodpecker Defending its Stash
» Why Woodpeckers Don't Get Headaches: Built in Shock Absorber 


By Lynne Page   Illustration by Jeff Riebe 

“Antiparasitic Behavior in New Zealand Parakeets, “by Terry Greene, pjgjnis Vol. 36, 1989, p. 322-323.

Serious bird watchers may be lucky enough to see wild birds “anting.” A bird will crush an ant with its beak, then rub the tiny carcass through its feathers. Ornithologists believe the formic acid in the ant kills lice and mites infesting the bird’s feathers. Some birds have been observed “anting” using citrus fruit or other substances which might cause a slight burning sensation. Until I read this brief article from New Zealand, however, I had not heard of similar behavior in parrots.

The author reports that species of kakarikis (cyanoramphus) in the wild and in captivity have been seen using plant material in a way that suggests the activity has an anti-parasitic function. The two plants used are the kanuka (Kunzia erico ides) and manuka (Leptospermum scopariurn), both highly aromatic plants. “The parakeets removed several leaves from the branches and thoroughly chewed them. Each parakeet would then fluff itself up, spread its tail feathers, take preen oil from the gland on its rump, and draw individual feathers from the base to the tip through its mandibles, presumably spreading the mixture over them. They paid particular attention to the primaries and tail feathers, although in intense preening sessions contour feathers on the breast and rump also received much attention. This preening usually lasted for 5-10 minutes, along with numerous changes of chewed leaves and preen oil.” 

On other occasions, kakarikis were observed swallowing the chewed bark and leaves of these two plants. Manuka is known to contain chemicals which can kill insects and worms, making it logical to assume the birds’ use of the plants serves to control both external parasites (lice and mites) and internal parasites (worms).

I have never seen a parrot “anting” but I have heard of a few parrots who rub objects through their feathers. In some cases this is clearly a game, probably unrelated to parasite control. For example, I met a cockatoo who would rub a sunflower (in the shell) through her feathers, perhaps to powder coat it to make it slippery, and then place it on her back. As it slid down, under or over her wing, she would deftly catch it. If she missed and lost the seed, she would call out her favorite phrase, “Be a chicken!” which meant “Get me another seed!” Usually one of her people would comply.

From now on, however, when I see a bird rubbing something through its feathers, I will look more closely to see if this might be some variation of “anting” behavior.   

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