Anting With Cigarette Smoke?

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British commuters are noticing strange behaviors among rooks recently. It seems that these birds, which are relatives of crows, are using discarded burning cigarettes to remove parasites from their feathers, a behavior known as "anting" because the birds originally relied on ants to do this.

Apparently, Rooks swoop down on to the tracks at Exeter St David's railway station in Devon, pick up discarded cigarette butts that are still burning and place their wings over the smoke to collect the fumes underneath.

Commuter Jeff Jones, of Budleigh Salterton, said: "I noticed the rooks because they are not usually found in towns. They were generally flapping about when a chap flicked a cigarette butt on to the track.

"It was still all right and one of the rooks swooped down and picked up the butt with its beak. It then flew around and landed on the platform, dancing around with this smoking cigarette in its beak.

"It looked quite comical. But then it dropped the butt on the platform and pulled its wings over it, collecting the smoke. It seemed as if it were using the smoke to rid itself of perhaps ants or something similar.

"Five minutes later another rook, or perhaps the same one, swooped in when another cigarette was flicked away and repeated the whole thing."

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Hi!

Hedgehogs do this too. They chew the stubs and then distribute the spit on their spines, some hedgehogs also use toxic paints and the like.

Jokerine.

Birds have been noted to ant with limes, burning cigarettes and other items as well, including ants and caterpillars. These activities have been noted in several articles and papers, many of which are not new.

Clapping

Chardyspal

By Chardyspal (not verified) on 02 Jun 2007 #permalink

Now what will the birds do when the appartchicks ban smoking outdoors in the UK?

By Chris' Wills (not verified) on 02 Jun 2007 #permalink

Unfortunately, this fascinating behaviour is likely to stop at the end of the month: we English, famous for our tolerance and sense of fair play, have decided on a blanket ban on smoking in all public places, including railway stations, from 1st July. It's what our grandfathers fought the Nazis for, apparently.

By the way, rooks aren't 'relatives of crows'; they are an actual species of crow.

...we English, famous for our tolerance and sense of fair play, have decided on a blanket ban on smoking in all public places, including railway stations,...
Posted by: Richard Carter, FCD

In Scotland, land of the rugged individualist, they have already tried to do so.
Some politico claimed that Central Station was an enclosed space under the act, rather than the wind tunnel it actually is. So Scotrail removed all the ashtrays (they even removed the rubbish bins).

Now, as I noticed on my last R&R, they station is dirtier than before. Mostly hamburger and other food packaging.
This has had one good result, they now employ more cleaners.

Oh yes, people still smoke there :o)

The one I find funniest is airports. Many ban their customers from smoking anywere inside but have smoking areas for their employees.

By Chris' Wills (not verified) on 02 Jun 2007 #permalink

Unfortunately, this fascinating behaviour is likely to stop at the end of the month: we English, famous for our tolerance and sense of fair play, have decided on a blanket ban on smoking in all public places, including railway stations, from 1st July. It's what our grandfathers fought the Nazis for, apparently.

Yes and excellent news this is, though totally irrelevant. Indeed, the ban on smoking inside places is only likely to increase the supply of used cigarette butts outside of them, until the anti -littering regulations are strengthened to prevent people just casually discarding their waste on the floor

By G. Shelley (not verified) on 03 Jun 2007 #permalink

Hey, I have an interesting article I would like to send to yu, but I can't find an email address?

Interesting... should I be offering my butts to the local (NYC) pigeons? Just goes to show you how critters adapt to all sorts of things, including the unreasonable crap we humans afflict them with.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 03 Jun 2007 #permalink

Chardyspal -- my flock of lories would "ant" with oranges and lemons as well (i think this is a citrus fruit thing). i liked to provide them with oranges, thinking they enjoyed eating them, but no, it was the outer skin of the orange that they liked for rubbing over their feathers.

Chris, Richard -- well, us NYCers have banned cigarette smoking in public places for four years and counting. since i have lived here for five years, and suffer from asthma and many serious allergies, i love this smoke-free life. as a result, i now have something that vaguely resembles a social life (in other words, i think the pigeons will be alright).

NYC has likewise removed most garbage cans (rubbish bins) from their subway stations, but this is because they are afraid that a terrorist will drop a bomb in one or more of them.

David -- i have never seen a pigeon ant -- i've only seen them take dust baths, so i am not sure if they would use burning cigarette butts for grooming their feathers.

Well it seems that some birds use burning cigarettes for grooming, some even spread their wings over smoking chimneys. Then again, some just use the left over tobacco and rub it in.

I guess that anything that will help kill the mites that can infest birds will do.

http://birds.ecoport.org/Behaviour/EBanting.htm
http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Auk/v069n01/p0087-p0088.pdf
http://besgroup.blogspot.com/2005/10/anting-ants-in-my-pants.html

Sadly I couldn't find a picture or film of this activity.

By Chris' Wills (not verified) on 04 Jun 2007 #permalink

An OT follow-up to the no smoking issue here in Scotland -- one unforeseen result, I think, is that I know of vets reporting a rise in asthma and respiratory infections in pets, as people now smoke more at home.

This about the rooks doesn't surprise me at all. They are smart, adaptable birds which pay real attention to their environment. I rather admire them.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 04 Jun 2007 #permalink

Oh well, I guess pigeons are no substitute for rooks (lots dumber for starters). It's a pity our crows got clobbered by West Nile a few years back.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 04 Jun 2007 #permalink

This is actually a very interesting observation. Nicotine is a secondary chemical produced by Tobacco plants that serves as a defense mechanism against insects. Pesticide companies have developed synthetic nicotine compounds called nicotinoids that they use as insecticides on lawns. One of the more common nicotinoids used by pesticide companies is imidacloprid. A 1999 French study found that imidacloprid was responsible for the deaths of wild birds in France. Pesticide residues were found in the livers of wild pigeons who were known to have been exposed to imidacloprid.

So, somehow the Rooks have figured out how to use the insecticidal qualities of nicotine in cigarette butts to remove parasites from their feathers.

You have to admit that's pretty impressive.

By Casey Tucker (not verified) on 04 Jun 2007 #permalink

Casey: One possibility is that one of the birds happened to be standing next to a burning cig, and felt the response of their parasites. I suspect imitation could take it from there.

Perhaps more likely, they might have an instinctive behavior for doing this with smoke in general, and simply found a convenient source of smoke. While natural fires do happen occasionally, I find myself wondering just how long those birds have been hanging around human settlements.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 04 Jun 2007 #permalink