A review of the anting-behaviour of passerine birds

Published on 01 October 1957 in Main articles

ANTING-BEHAVIOUR may be defined as the stereotyped movements with which birds, in order to get formic acid (or other organic liquids) on to the feathers for some purpose as yet not fully understood, actively apply ants (or objects in place of ants) to certain parts of the plumage, a n d / o r more or less passively allow these insects to crawl on to the plumage. Bird-watchers in the British Isles have so far lacked a readily available general review of this enigmatic behaviour. The present paper aims to provide detailed descriptions of the special movements involved (with the aid of illustrations) and to discuss the nature of anting critically. The literature of anting and the basis of the present review. No attempt will be made to trace fully the earlier history of anting in the literature. Those interested can do no better than read the account of Chisholm (1944), to whom all credit is due for first stimulating widespread interest in this very puzzling phenomenon in his book on Australian bird topics (1934). Before this, there were only scattered references (e.g. Osmaston (1909) who gave the first details of certain features of anting), but, as a direct result of Chisholm’s comments, there appeared, in the German periodical Ornithologische Monatsberichte, a series of preliminary notes, initiated by the editor Dr. E. Stresemann (Stresemann, 1935; Stresemann et al., 1935; Adlersparre, 1936; and others). Another contribution at this time came from India (Ali, 1936), after which for some years most interest

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