[Tweeters] re: "anting" behavior and adding "sunning" behavior to the mix

Barbara Deihl barbdeihl at comcast.net
Sat Jun 19 21:08:56 PDT 2010

Hello Tweeterpersons,

During the past 2 summers, I and others observed some behavior in a
pair of Merlins, on the streets and rooftops of N. Seattle, that some
called "anting" and others called "sunning". The reason given for the
behavior was that it was an antiparasite strategy (the birds'
scratching and time spent on a nest filled with growing young made it
seem likely that they were indeed hosting some freeloaders).

An adult Merlin would, on a hot summer day, usually in the afternoon
between 1 & 3 p.m., land on a south-facing roof edge (over the
gutter), spread out it's wing- and tailfeathers and remain there for
up to 5 minutes, fairly motionless. On one occasion, a Merlin landed
on a gravel/grass driveway 10-15 ft away from 3 of us and stood there
with spread feathers for what seemed to be less than a minute, turning
slightly and walking slowly a bit before flying off. Photos taken by
one of us, clearly show his positions.

As there was no sign of ants near the standing Merlin and no movement
by the rooftop sunners such as there was in the blackbird anting video
in the Bird Note segment Bob shared here, surely what we have
witnessed is not anting, at least in the sense of gathering them up
under the "tent" of wings & tail, to feed on. Merlins do not
generally eat ants, as do robins and blackbirds, so any anting
behavior seen in these birds, it seems to me, must relate to the
ridding of parasites (through the application of formic acid to the
feathers?). I am wondering if, this obvious sunning behavior we have
observed with the Merlins, also in some way helps kill or otherwise
reduce the number of parasites on them? And if so, how?

Any thoughts or references on any of this are most welcome.

Barb Deihl

North Matthews Beach - NE Seattle

barbdeihl at comcast.net

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