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Word of the Week: Anting

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Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Anting [AN-ting] (noun): The practice of placing ants among the feathers, done by certain birds.

With their dark iridescent bodies, long features, and rusty gate-like call, Common Grackles are birds that we often notice in the city. It might surprise you to learn that Common Grackles are known to frequently practice anting.

Anting is a maintenance behaviour during which a bird rubs insects, usually fire ants (or red ants), on their feathers and skin. The bird can scoop up the insects in their beaks and then rub them on their bodies (active anting), or they can lie in an area where there are lots of these insects and perform dust bathing-like movements to get them to crawl on their bodies (passive anting). The insects secrete liquids which have chemicals like formic acid. The formic acid is thought to repel feather parasites and prevent the growth of bacterial and fungal infections.

Some other local birds that are known to practice anting include Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Northern Flickers, and European Starlings.

Keep an eye out for Common Grackles and this fascinating bird behaviour around your neighbourhood and in High Park this season!

FUN FACT: More than 200 species of bird are known to practice anting

To learn more about birds with the High Park Nature Centre, check out our “Birds of the City” Online Naturalist Course for adults!