Photographers are some of the luckiest people. They get to observe the world when no one else is watching. Their sharp eye to capture the world in its natural habitat is incredible. During their exploration hours, a lot of things can happen unexpectedly. Being prepared with their camera on hand all the time, they are able to immortalize those happenings through one simple click. One of these people is Tony Austin.
Austin has been photographing since 1963. Although all the work he has done through the years, it was one of his recent shots that got the attention of media worldwide. As he was taking a walk, and exploring nature he saw something unusual. By accident, he happened to be in the right place and time to witness a crow taking an ant bath. Earthwonders reached out to the artist to the artist to ask him more about this event. Scroll down below to read the story.
“A couple of Sundays ago I was out looking for birds to photograph at Swan Lake. I had spent three hours walking around the lake and found very little to shoot. I decided to head home and as I walked back to my car I noticed a murder (flock) of crows in the distance, but they were too far away. However, as I continued on my way they took flight and landed 40’ or so behind me on the gravel path. I thought, “well this is better than nothing,”
I lay down on the path and started shooting. One bird amongst the others stood out, it appeared to be taking a dirt/dust bath on the gravel, it’s not unusual behavior in birds, but this seemed different because it was more frantic. The crow had its wings splayed out, it was shaking its head and it would leap into the air, land in the tall grass beside the path, then leap back. It was very curious, I thought maybe the bird is in distress, however, none of the other crows seemed concerned. They all eventually took flight and I headed home,” explained the artist for Earthwonders.
“It was only when I started editing the photos and cropped in tighter, that I noticed the oddly behaving crow was covered in ants! This confirmed for me that he had been in some kind of mild distress. I posted the image on a Facebook site called “Picture Perfect Vancouver Island” and within a few minutes there were many comments and likes, most people felt upset for the bird but a couple of knowledgeable birders said what I had witnessed was “anting”, which is a behavior common to many birds but rarely witnessed or photographed.
There are two types of anting, one is “active anting,” where a bird will hold a single ant in its beak and rub the ant over its wing and tail feathers. The other form of anting is “passive anting” which is rarely witnessed. Here the bird lands on an ant nest and allows the ants to crawl all over it. The first recorded anting was observed by James Audubon in 1831 when he witnessed wild turkeys “wallowing” on anthills.”
“Why birds do this is not exactly known as neither the birds nor the ants are talking! From what I’ve read, there are several theories regarding Anting,” continued Austin.
“One is that the bird upsets the anthill by landing on it, the ants crawl onto the bird and in a defense mechanism, the ants release a Formic acid onto the bird’s feathers and tail, the acid then acts as a pesticide and kills lice and feather mites on the bird.
Another theory is the bird grabs the ant and rubs it on its feathers to release the ant’s Formic Acid. This rids the ant of the unappetizing acid making it more palatable for the bird to eat.
Yet another theory suggests that it’s a form of self-stimulation, external stimuli that have no biological purpose other than the bird seems to enjoy it, and it becomes an enjoyable habit. Take a look at the bird’s face!
One last possibility is that the ants crawling on the bird helps them molt which stimulates the growth in the largest feathers and tail.”
“To my surprise, the photo was picked up by CBC Vancouver, who did an article which went viral with NPR, CTV, CBS, Yahoo, GEO France, PetaPixel, and the Smithsonian who all contacted me and did articles on the photo. I even got interviewed by Carol Off on CBC’s flagship radio show “As It Happens”. It’s been a whirlwind of attention from what appeared to be a slow day out shooting. My wife asked me “did you get any good shots?”, I replied “nothing much!”