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Friday
Jun032005

Carrion Crow taking an Ant-Bath

Yesterday I noticed a carrion crow (Corvus corone corone) behaving rather strangely on the lawn at the front of our flats.  It was sitting down in the grass with its wings slightly extended sideways, as if it was sunning itself -- but the Sun was not shining.  I though it rather strange, but I had other things to do, so I soon forgot about it.

Well, today, what I presume was the same bird was doing exactly the same thing but in a slightly different spot.  Then a car slowly drove past and the crow stood up and ambled further away from the road, waiting until the car was gone before returning to precisely the same patch of grass to sit down again.  Then it occurred to me that I had often seen ants in the grass down there, so I went downstairs to take a closer look.  Sure enough there was a concentration of ants in precisely the place where the crow had been sitting.  Presumably, the crow was using these ants to de-louse itself. 
When I came back in, the crow went back to the same spot to resume its ant-bath.

Reader Comments (11)

Hi Tristram. I don't expect you'd think you'd get a reply after 4.5 years. Yes, I suspect you're probably right about your crow.. I saw a nature show from Britain some years ago, featuring a crow exhibiting this same behaviour.
What prompted me to look it up (and come across your post) was a Pied Currawong, a crow like native Australian bird, (http://birdsinbackyards.net/bird/25) doing this same thing. The bird lay prone on top of the garden mulch, wings spread, tail spread, for about 30 minutes (my Mother-in-law thought it was dead). After it had gone, I went down to investigate the area it was laying on and found virtually no ant activity in this area at all.
Was it warming itself? I doubt it. It's 30°c outside today and the bird's basically black. Was it drying off after a bath? Perhaps.
It remains a mystery to me.
December 29 | Unregistered CommenterRussell Grainger
Saw this today (May 13, 2010) in our yard just south of Nashville, Tennessee, USA.

Saw a crow crouched on the lawn just below our big back windows, where I keep binoculars handy to look at birds. Usually crows just stalk around the back yard looking for food. This one was crouched, with its wings spread out, like it was bathing (we see them taking water baths in the shallows of our pond occasionally), ruffling its feathers occasionally and grooming with its beak.

I was really curious because I'd never seen this behavior before. I looked at it through the binocs and was astonished to see that ants were crawling all over its body!!! I had no idea what was going on - that it was being attacked by fireants, that it was doing some strange thing to attract the ants so it could eat them - I had no idea. It stayed there for perhaps 3-4 minutes, then flew up to an overhanging branch and continued to groom itself. Obvious grooming this time.

So, Google here I come and found this site. Hope this info isn't too late to add to the mystery!

Cheers.
May 13 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
I was walking my dog along Salsbury Drive in East Vancouver BC two nights ago (June 27, 2010) and saw three crows. Two were waiting for a third who was all hunched down on the sidewalk, hunching himself down as flat as he could and wiggling. At first I thought "dust bath" but when I got closer all three crows moved away to let me pass and I looked at where the flattened crow was and it was swarming with ants!
I searched for "crows ants" and found this site! Wow!
Thanks everyone.
I heard that this behavior is akin to recreational drugs to the birds. Both ravens and crows do it.
July 3 | Unregistered CommenterCharles
Just saw a crow exhibit this same beahvior outside my office window. It sat down in the grass and fluffed out its feathers. I then saw what could only be ants crawling over the bird. It sat there for 20 seconds or so, then got up. After about a minute, it repeated the process and flew away.

Maybe this would be a good way to de-louse humans? (only half serious here)
June 1 | Unregistered CommenterJoe John
Noticed the same behaviors in my driveway here in Campbell River B.C.
There were 2 adults, and a juvenile acting strangely, rolling around as if
they were bathing. They seemed to take turns, and appeared to be
enjoying themselves. When I later went to see what the big deal was,
all I saw was lot of ants. The insects were quite small, with black heads,
and abdomens, but a red thorax. We have in B.C., many different ant species,
and I just wonder if they all service crows in this manner, or just one certain
ant clan does this "job" ?
August 3 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte
Noticed the same behaviors in my driveway here in Campbell River B.C.
There were 2 adults, and a juvenile acting strangely, rolling around as if
they were bathing. They seemed to take turns, and appeared to be
enjoying themselves. When I later went to see what the big deal was,
all I saw was lot of ants. The insects were quite small, with black heads,
and abdomens, but a red thorax. We have in B.C., many different ant species,
and I just wonder if they all service crows in this manner, or just one certain
ant clan does this "job" ?
August 3 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte
i found this site for the same reason. wondering what that crow was doing. thought he was sick or something the way he was spread out on the lawn, yet he was grooming himself. when i went out later to check it out closer he had been sitting right on a large sandy ant hill. i just love watching all birds and their behaviours, but the crows are so smart!
June 22 | Unregistered Commenterliz
Drove past a murder of crows today. They were hopping about in a circle and they seemed to be vieing for the center. There were 2 crows in the center hunched up with their wings spread. I stopped the car and all but the 2 spread -eagled crows flew off. One crow in particular was covered in ants. They were standing atop an ant colony that was 10" in dia. and about 2" high. The ants had red heads. I presumed the crows were using the ants as grooming agents to remove parasites. This site has proven me right. I live in Victoria BC.
June 27 | Unregistered Commenterchris
Today on a navy base close to the army base in Japan that I am stationed at I saw a crow covered in ants and thought it was dying and being eaten. I walked up to it and it flew away. It made me good this on my phone and that's how I found this site.
July 12 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

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