Once upon a time, in a place far away in distance and time, I had a first opportunity to watch carefully how a variety of birds take water baths. As you would expect, different bird species bathe differently. Bathing behavior is another one of those things that separate species from one another.
Hummingbirds, of course, are quick and sparing. Robins are exuberant and like to get soaked. Birds of prey seem to be reluctant. I never have seen a woodpecker bathe. And so on; it was interesting and instructive just to observe. It still is, there in our little dripper bath.
Some bird species take dust baths. "Dusting," as it is sometimes called. Some species of birds get down onto fine dry soil or sand and perform what resembles water bathing to fill their feathers and then get rid of it by shaking and preening. Songbirds often make a hollow in the dust by scratching and rotating their bodies. Some hawks, owls and wrens indulge; house sparrows are frequent "dusters." Most birds are solitary in this activity, whereas house sparrows often dust in small groups. It is presumed that birds dust bathe to keep their plumage fluffy. A few birds - grouse, in particular - never seem to water bathe but will dust bathe.
And then there's "anting." Anting is defined as "the application by birds of the body fluid of ants (or other substances) to their plumage; in 'passive anting,' a bird squats on an ant nest and allows the insects to crawl over its plumage."
There's even an anting posture: When anting, the birds bring their wings well forward of their bodies, at the same time being arched outward, and the tail is twisted to one side and under the body. The whole action is rapid and vigorous.
Alternatively, anting may be carried out by the bird picking up ants and placing them on its feathers and allowing the ants to crawl over it Finally, anting may involve crushing of the ants and their fluids then rubbed onto the feathers. Anting may last up to half an hour. Birds appear to enjoy every minute of it.
Well, gee. Who wouldn't?
The literature reveals that on occasion, birds have been observed to be anting with pungent beetles, strong-smelling bugs, mealworms, various berries, orange juice, vinegar, beer, moth balls - and smoke. No doubt, this is only a partial list; for a long time, anting was not accepted by most ornithologists as bird behavior, and thus not reported. Not all species indulge in it, but more than 20 species have now been reported to have.
Anting is thought to be a bird's way of getting rid of lice, and is often followed by preening or water bathing. Or, it may just be fun.
An afterthought: Birds of a given species generally act as do all of their kind, but they are also individuals. I keep looking to see a woodpecker taking a water bath.
Field Notes: All over the place: confused critters. Lost, befuddled, wide-eyed, rooted to one spot in the way, needing help. And besides them, baby birds and other animals abroad in the Hole, venturing out more or less on their own. Look out for them.
Birds gotta fly, mammals gotta walk and run, but they gotta also practice to perfect their locomotion. Instinct works wonders, but some learning has to be involved to survive. So back off a little and give the youngsters some extra time.
Robins are renesting, which is fine. Brewer's blackbirds are not, I trust, having more young; they have plenty. Swallows seem to start late but are caught up with nesting obligations. Susan Patla reported a lot of Savannah sparrows during one bird survey near Jackson, but no bobolinks. Does anyone know of nesting bobolinks? If so, please tell her (733-2321) or me.
A single Franklin's gull over Flat Creek in Jackson on Thursday; a scout or the whole shebang? Some years a big insect hatch on the creek brings many of these swift flyers.
Lots of flowers, lots of yellow flowers to enjoy, enhanced by luscious greens. Summer.
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