Pin-striped Tit-babbler – feeding behaviour or anting?

On 16th November 2012, Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS encountered a pair of Pin-striped Tit-babblers (Macronous gularis gularis) feeding along a trail through the primary forest of the Kledang-Sayong Forest Reserve in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.

“One of them captured a small black beetle (top) but instead of eating it immediately, it retained it in the beak for some time (above), even when preening (below),” wrote Amar. “I wonder if this was because it wanted to take the prey back to young at a nest. The supporting evidence is that only two adults were present, unlike the usual group of 5-7. Prey for this species is not well documented in Wells (2007).”

Note: If the bird is actually preening as in the image above, it has to take the feathers between its bill. But the bird has the beetle tightly clamped in its bill and appears to be moving the beetle over the feather. So is it possible that the Pin-striped Tit-babbler is actually anting – see this LINK.

According to Collar & Robson (2007), “anting and anting-like behaviour are relatively frequent and widespread among babblers, and deserve more investigation.” By anting-like behaviour, the authors are referring to birds using other than ants, like the sap from plant branches to scrub their feathers, or even dead snakes. Eisner & Aneshansley (2008) showed that Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) indulge in anting when offered bombardier beetles that are capable of spraying a noxious chemical LINK.

It is not known what species of beetle the tit-babbler caught and whether it is capable of spraying a chemical when irritated. Whatever the species, it is highly possible that the Pin-striped Tit-babbler was involving in anting-like behaviour.

We welcome comments from readers….

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
November 2012

References:
1.
Collar, N. J. & C. Robson, 2007. Family Timaliidae (Babblers). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.). Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 12. Picathartes to Tits and Chikadees. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 70-291.
2. Eisner, T. & D. Aneshansley, 2008. “Anting” in blue jays: evidence in support of a food-preparatory function. Chemoecology 18(4): 197-203.
3. Wells, D.R., 2007. The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. II, Passerines. Christopher Helm, London. 800 pp.

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