If you were a bird and saw a parade of ants on a picnic blanket, would you turn your beak away in disgust or would you dive in hungrily? Many homeowners work hard to attract beautiful birds to their yards, and we know plenty of foods we can put out for them to bring them in. But what do these birds eat in the wild? Some homeowners attract birds in part to reduce the population of mosquitoes, wasps, spiders and other pests in their yards, but what about ants?
So do birds eat ants? The short answer is, yes! Many birds choose ants and similar small insects as an important part of their diet. Some of these birds include doves, grouse, hummingbirds, starlings, sparrows and even bigger birds like turkeys. In this article we’ll go over why birds love to eat ants, and what you can do to help control an ant problem if your neighborhood birds just aren’t doing the trick.
What makes ants a good food source for birds?
One thing that makes ants a perfect food source for birds is the sheer number of them that can be found in any given area. Ants are the most common insect in the world by far, with many scientists estimating their global population over 10 quadrillion. That’s over a million billions of ants! That said, there is obviously never a shortage of these little bugs for birds to prey on, so it makes sense that so many birds feed on them.
For how small their bodies are, ants have a surprisingly high protein content. Protein is extremely important to a bird’s diet, just like any other animal, because it strengthens the muscles that allow the bird to perform everyday functions. Without sufficient protein, birds’ muscles can weaken and atrophy. They can even become too weak to fly.
They are filled with essential nutrients like potassium, zinc, and iron. Potassium, zinc, and iron also help the body perform many essential functions, such as keeping the heartbeat regular, helping the blood to circulate oxygen, and helping muscles to contract normally. While very few birds eat exclusively ants, almost all species of birds will eat them as a staple or supplement in their diet to provide easy protein and healthy fat. Birds also find food such as spiders, worms, and grubs on the ground. This gives ants a fighting chance to keep out of the birds’ attention.
The only real problem with birds eating lots of ants is that they’re mostly found on the ground. Eating on the ground can make birds vulnerable. Birds wings allow them to soar above foxes, snakes, and other predators that might be looking for a meal. Eating ants off the ground puts birds in a position to easily be caught by a bigger animal, so they try to get a lot of their food from places other than the ground, such as plants and nuts.
Can ants be harmful to birds?
While birds quite often eat ants, sometimes the tables can turn and ants will be harmful to birds. The biggest example of this is fire ants. Fire ants will sometimes invade a nest in a tree or bird house and sting baby birds and eggs that are hatching. This can cause a lot of pain for the birds and even kill them in some cases. If you have birds nesting in your trees and live in an area where fire ants are prevalent, consider taking actions to keep the ants away.
How do you kill ants without harming birds?
If you have an ant problem in your yard and are trying to fix it, be sure that you use a method that will be safe for any birds you might have living there. Many common pesticides and insecticides can be dangerous for birds. They can be exposed to it by eating treated plants, poisoned ants, or even just inhaling fumes. Birds can be especially sensitive to the insecticides bendiocarb, Chlorpyrifos and diazinon, so be sure to avoid any treatments containing these when shopping for ant killer.
For a safer way to control an ant problem, try using insect growth regulators instead of chemicals that kill grown insects. Insect growth regulators stop the development of ant eggs and keep them from hatching into adult ants. They do this by replicating and taking the place of the growth hormones that baby ants use to grow, tricking the ant’s body into thinking it’s growing while really doing nothing. Growth regulators for ants or other insects aren’t dangerous to birds and are a much safer way to get rid of ants without killing the birds or other animals that often feed on them.
Do any birds have special relationships with certain ants?
One strange special relationship between birds and ants that not many people know about is something called anting. Birds have the strange habit of rubbing ants all over their feathers and skin. Nobody is perfectly sure why birds do this, but there are a few theories. Ants secrete a poison on their skin called formic acid to keep predators away, and some people believe that birds practice anting for the formic acid to kill small parasites that live under the birds’ feathers.
Some also theorize that birds simply use ants as a way to preen and smooth out their feathers, and possibly to stimulate feathers for better growth. After anting, most birds will eat the ants around them, and some scientists claim that anting is actually birds’ natural way of preparing their meal. Talk about playing with your food.
Do birds eat ants? Birds definitely have some peculiar behaviors, don’t they? From eating bugs that most of us consider to be disgusting pests to rubbing the same bugs all over themselves, our feathered friends do lots of things we don’t expect. But that’s part of what makes them so charming. Hopefully these tips will help you whether you’re looking to get rid of an ant problem in your yard or use it to attract more friendly birds.