303: The Birds!

303: The Birds!

Brain Junk
Brain Junk
303: The Birds!

Trace found some delightful random facts about birds! Today we’re talking “anting”, talons locked to the death, and musical cockatoos.

Show Notes:

Journal of Ornithology: Anting behavior in birds

Video of crow anting: aka the spicy spa

Bird Note: anting

Facebook video of bald eagles cartwheeling

Bird Note: Eagles cartwheeling

Palm Cockatoos playing their instruments

Research paper on Palm Cockatoos

Funny vid with Conan O’Brien and a palm cockatoo guest


[00:00:03] Speaker A: Welcome to Brain Junk. I’m Amy Barton.

[00:00:05] Speaker B: And I’m Trace Kerr. And I just saw a spider and I’m terrified. But we’re going to do this episode because I’m an adult.

Today we’re going to, today we’re going to talk about everything you never knew you wanted to know about birds.

[00:00:20] Speaker A: Just everything about birds.

[00:00:21] Speaker B: Everything.

[00:00:22] Speaker A: People grab a hot beverage.

[00:00:24] Speaker C: Yep.

[00:00:24] Speaker B: This episode, it’s going to be like 12 hours. It’s an eight part episode. No, it’s like three things that I really thought were cool. And that’s everything. So there you go.

[00:00:33] Speaker A: Excellent.

[00:00:34] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:00:34] Speaker B: We’re winning at information, but I saw the spider. You mentioned ants, and the first thing we’re going to talk about is this thing called anting. A-N-T-I-N-G. So it’s perfect. It’s just synergy. We’re just coming together.

[00:00:48] Speaker A: Love it.

[00:00:51] Speaker B: If you don’t like ants, just, you have to skip through this beginning little part.

[00:00:56] Speaker A: If you see a whole nest of them, do your feet tingle? If I see a whole pile of them, my feet are like having accidentally.

[00:01:04] Speaker B: Stood with my foot in a red ant nest in Georgia.

They’re so spicy.

[00:01:11] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:01:12] Speaker A: I feel like the warmer it gets, the spicier the ants get.

That far south. Those are some very exciting ants.

[00:01:21] Speaker B: Well, and here’s the thing.

[00:01:22] Speaker C: Okay.

[00:01:22] Speaker B: So there’s at least 250 species of birds like crows and robins and jays that love that acidic spa treatment.

That is what anting is.

Yeah. Okay, so the very thing that we think birds want, the formic acid.

[00:01:44] Speaker A: Whoa.

Excuse me. I’m so sorry. Did that just blow out your ears? That wasn’t an ant effect.

[00:01:50] Speaker B: No, it wasn’t. Also, it wasn’t a. Dad. Know where you’re.

[00:01:54] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:01:56] Speaker A: Here comes one more. I’m sorry.

[00:01:58] Speaker B: Maybe look at the light.

[00:01:59] Speaker C: There we go.

[00:01:59] Speaker A: Excuse me. Goodness. Okay, Georgia. Spicy ants.

[00:02:05] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:02:05] Speaker B: So spicy ants. The thing that makes them spicy is formic acid. Although red ants also bite you.

[00:02:11] Speaker A: But they literally are acidic.

[00:02:13] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:02:14] Speaker B: They are causing, like on humans, a formic acid. It can cause burns. If it gets in your mouth, it can hurt your eyes, it can make you vomit, headache, confusion. If you went face first into an ant mound and then didn’t get up, horrible things would happen to you. Because each of these little ants has the ability to squirt this tiny little amount of acid from their. Well, it’s not their butt, but we’re just going to call it their butt because that’s easier.

[00:02:44] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:02:45] Speaker B: But here’s the thing, though. Formic acid might help birds get rid of things like mites.

[00:02:51] Speaker A: Oh, yeah.

[00:02:52] Speaker B: So imagine you’ve got that big ant hill, thousands of ants walking across it. They’re all minding their own business, and a crow lands smack in the middle and starts stomping her feet, laying her feathers out. She gets swarmed by ants.

[00:03:05] Speaker A: Is this like Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic park trying to draw the dinosaur away?

[00:03:09] Speaker B: Well, here, you know what I’m going to do is I’m going to email you a thing to watch.

[00:03:17] Speaker A: Okay. And while you’re emailing, did you say these are red ants, black ants, any little ants? Oh, super.

[00:03:25] Speaker B: Well, not all ants.

Many ants send.

[00:03:30] Speaker C: Okay.

[00:03:30] Speaker B: It does not like me having this open as well. So we’re just going to close that.

Let’s see. We’re jumping around like crazy people because this is the first episode of the.

[00:03:38] Speaker A: Day and the questions sometimes lead us around. I’ll go over. So I’m going to watch this while.

[00:03:45] Speaker B: You review your notes, while I circle back.

[00:03:49] Speaker A: Okay.

[00:03:50] Speaker B: So the crow lands in the middle, right. And is swarmed by these ants. She might even grab an ant and rub it, like deodorant, in between her feathers.

[00:04:00] Speaker A: Yeah, she’s doing a little. It’s not itching.

She’s getting those wings in there, but.

[00:04:07] Speaker B: Also there’s flinching, because in addition to getting the acid that they want, they’re also getting bitten.

[00:04:13] Speaker A: I was just wondering.

[00:04:15] Speaker B: Yeah, it doesn’t look like a super fun time. Sometimes they almost look drunk with how they act.

[00:04:23] Speaker A: Yes. She settles in, and then immediately there’s this moment of. Okay, here we go. And then it’s very unsettled. Flinch.

[00:04:31] Speaker B: And then kind of like, flick them off because they’re crawling under the feathers, in between the feathers, because they want that formic acid underneath the feathers. But here’s the thing. So the funny thing is, while there have been papers documenting the fact that birds do this, no one’s really nailed down why for every time. So I read this one paper published in the Journal of Ornithology in 2022 by Dr. Okawara and company. It’s called anting behavior in birds, the behavioral patterns and interactions with ants. And there’s lots of studies done, but like this one study that they did between 2019 and 2022, there were only 102 cases recorded.

[00:05:13] Speaker A: Oh, really?

[00:05:14] Speaker B: Right. So we see it happen, but we don’t see it happen very often.

[00:05:19] Speaker A: And remind me again, the benefit of the formic acid for them is what some people think.

[00:05:25] Speaker B: In a paper written for the Georgia Department of Resources, they think that perhaps the birds are using the ant, the formic acid, like a lotion, to relieve itching associated with growing feathers.

[00:05:36] Speaker A: So maybe they’re not seeing it very frequently because it’s a response to a problem.

[00:05:41] Speaker B: It could be that.

[00:05:42] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:05:43] Speaker B: Could be because of getting rid of mites. It could be because some people have noticed it happens a lot more often during rainy seasons. And during rainy seasons is when they’re doing a lot of feather stuff. And so they’re like, well, maybe it has to do with the feathers.

[00:05:55] Speaker A: They’ve got mold under there.

Could you just wash it out with vinegar? Have you tried vinegar? This is the bird version of that.

[00:06:04] Speaker B: It’s funny that you say that, because they have seen birds using lots of things, like naturally occurring, like highly acidic dirt. They even had this one crow that had figured out in captivity to light a match, and then they would rub the match that hot, the spent match.

[00:06:22] Speaker A: Oh, wow.

That’s the bad boy of the bird world. Right?

[00:06:27] Speaker B: I know. He’s like, light that match, wait for it to burn down, rub it on body. He always smells a little smoky.

[00:06:33] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:06:35] Speaker B: Because clearly, if you watch that crow, this will be in the show notes. It’s not like this is a party.

[00:06:41] Speaker A: No. And it’s long.

What they showed was over a minute, probably a minute and a half of this bird bathing and hanging as long as it can, and then it pops out and then it settles back in. So it’s not fun.

[00:06:57] Speaker C: No.

[00:06:57] Speaker B: And then this has been going on so long. Birds have different techniques. So the crow that you watched, it lands on the mound, and then it stamps. It’s clearly trying to make them mad, so they all rush it. There’s also another technique called lunging, where the bird will land, grab an ant, and then shove the ant into the ant hill. Like, head into ant hill. Oh, I know ants aren’t screaming, but I’m imagining that there’s this, and then everyone comes running.

[00:07:30] Speaker A: That is really brilliant, because what we’ve learned, you and I have talked before about the defense of bees and ants.

[00:07:39] Speaker C: Yes.

[00:07:39] Speaker A: That have those similar behaviors when there is an injured or sick member of their group. So that’s a brilliant way. It’s like throwing a grenade in.

[00:07:50] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:07:51] Speaker B: Huge chemical response. And what’s interesting, too, is when you watch videos, if they’re really close up and kind of slow mo, you can see the ant, her mandibles are open, she’s ready to bite, and she curls her abdomen up and kind of points it in the same direction her face is pointing. And then there’s a little squirt and if it’s thousands of them, that would add up.

[00:08:12] Speaker A: Yes.

Wow. This is like a bird spa treatment or like a delosing.

That’s really interesting.

[00:08:24] Speaker B: Like me using that salicylic acid noxema pad. A little stingy.

[00:08:30] Speaker A: Yes, exactly.

[00:08:32] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:08:32] Speaker B: So now we’re going to go from acid baths to daredevil cartwheels.

[00:08:38] Speaker A: Are we still on birds?

[00:08:40] Speaker B: We are still on birds.

[00:08:42] Speaker C: Yeah. Okay.


[00:08:45] Speaker B: You thought online dating was hard. You should try getting to know a potential boyfriend eagle style. Which sounds like kamasutra, but it’s not two eagles or hawks, usually it’s raptors. They fly at each other, talons out, grab claws and then have you ever seen them spin? Like they’re hooked together and they do this death spiral down towards the.

[00:09:07] Speaker A: Yes. It’s very circusy.

[00:09:10] Speaker C: Yes.

[00:09:10] Speaker B: And sometimes they don’t let go in time. They do hit the ground.

[00:09:14] Speaker C: Yee.

[00:09:15] Speaker A: Really?

[00:09:15] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:09:16] Speaker B: Sometimes they get tangled up. Get like deer. They get their antlers tangled up. These are feet tangled up.

[00:09:22] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:09:22] Speaker B: Well, okay. So I have always seen with these videos, if you go looking for videos of, they call it Talon grappling or cartwheeling, most will be titled courtship flights. It’s a guy, it’s a girl. They’re testing each other. But what’s really funny is you look in the comments and there’s almost always a very tired ornithologist. It’s territorial.

This is not dating. It’s not what you think.

[00:09:49] Speaker A: Please, people, please stop clicking the first link.

[00:09:54] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:09:55] Speaker B: Because they did say sometimes. Yes. But most of the time this is either territory rivals two guys because let’s be honest, they have some testosterone issues or it’s parents and children.

[00:10:10] Speaker A: Oh, really?

[00:10:11] Speaker B: It’s a teenager. They’re getting uppity. Instead of ripping off their bedroom door like some parents used to do, they grab claws. Death spiraling to the ground. Who’s going to be the chicken first? Yes.

[00:10:25] Speaker C: Wow.

[00:10:26] Speaker A: That’s very extreme. But as your kids get older, that does make sense.

[00:10:32] Speaker C: Yeah, it does.

[00:10:34] Speaker B: But it’s just so funny that there’s not a huge amount of information because it’s one of these things where they’re like, yes, we can see it happening.

[00:10:42] Speaker A: You can’t make it happen, though. Well.

[00:10:45] Speaker B: And often these courtship ones, people are like, oh, my gosh. Well, they’re like, you can’t tell the sex of these birds, some of them, because they look exactly the same. Like bald eagle.

[00:10:54] Speaker A: Yeah.

[00:10:55] Speaker B: It’s two black birds with white heads spin to the knows, you know? And so we know it happens it’s very aggressive. It’s very dangerous. Don’t do it, kids.

[00:11:04] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:11:08] Speaker A: The James Dean of eagles.

[00:11:10] Speaker B: Yeah, it’s a lot.

[00:11:11] Speaker C: Wow.

[00:11:11] Speaker B: That was extra. Okay.

[00:11:14] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:11:15] Speaker A: So it sounds like it’s more like when two male rams face off or deers.

[00:11:22] Speaker C: Wow.

[00:11:24] Speaker A: Do they do it over water too? Like, would we potentially see this over in coeur d’alene or is this not.

[00:11:29] Speaker B: No, they do do it over water. In fact, the only reason why I thought of this bird, bird, bird smorgasbord bird was because I saw a TikTok and it was over the sailor sea people are on the beach, and these two eagles, I mean, they almost hit the water and the wings fly out. This will also be in the show notes. You can go look at this. The wings fly out, and it’s almost like when you’re on that merrygor round and you lean out and that centrifugal, there’s force. It’s pulling you apart, but you’re holding each other together. And it’s quite breathtaking to see them.

[00:12:07] Speaker A: And you hope you’re in the right part of the spiral so that you don’t wing toward the ground. I can see one making it out and one not.

[00:12:14] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:12:15] Speaker B: And I have seen two birds doing it, like, over forests, and they did not let go in time, and they did crash into the trees. Yikes.

[00:12:25] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:12:26] Speaker B: Accidents can happen.

[00:12:27] Speaker C: Wow. Yeah.

[00:12:28] Speaker A: I can’t see that being a mating behavior because that’s the direct opposite of the goal. Yeah, it’s very endangering.

[00:12:37] Speaker C: Yes.

[00:12:38] Speaker B: There was some speculation. If you have a pair that’s mated and say they don’t have chicks yet and one of them got food and the other one is like, I want some of these. This is how we’re resolving an argument.

[00:12:51] Speaker A: Oh. That also seems like we just yell at each other for a couple of minutes and then it’s over.

[00:12:57] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:12:57] Speaker B: Maybe therapy.

[00:12:58] Speaker C: Maybe therapy.

[00:13:02] Speaker A: Wow.

[00:13:03] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:13:04] Speaker A: Okay. And you have a third. I do have a third trifecta today.

[00:13:08] Speaker B: The last but not least, anting, death defying. And now we’re going to move into the smooth jazz portion.

[00:13:16] Speaker A: Excellent.

[00:13:18] Speaker C: Yes.

[00:13:18] Speaker B: So the proceedings of the Royal Society B, which, by the way, I’ve seen these papers before, and it’s Royal Society and then capital b.

And this is the first time that I went, what does the b stand for?

[00:13:32] Speaker A: Yes, that’s a. Oh, I have looked this up because I had that very same question. I’m like, what the heck is this? Because if you poke around in scientific nature stuff for a short while, they pop up.

[00:13:43] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:13:43] Speaker B: It’s either royal society B or Royal Society A. Well, it turns out the b stands for papers and life sciences.

[00:13:51] Speaker A: Okay.

[00:13:51] Speaker B: And a is for physical sciences and mathematics. So I will probably never do a royal society a because it’s mathematics.

[00:14:00] Speaker A: Yes, I hear that.

[00:14:03] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:14:03] Speaker B: So, anywho, let’s talk about individual preferences for sound tool design in a parrot.

[00:14:09] Speaker A: Individual preferences for sound tool design. Okay.

[00:14:14] Speaker B: In a parrot.

[00:14:15] Speaker A: Okay.

[00:14:16] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:14:16] Speaker B: So new research, hot off the presses. 2023 palm cockatoos. Now, these birds are found in New guinea, in Australia. About 3ft tall, all black.

[00:14:27] Speaker A: That is a lot of bird.

[00:14:28] Speaker B: A lot of bird. That distinctive cockatoo mohawk that they can make stand up with a bright reddish orange cheek.

I have here that I have a link for.

[00:14:41] Speaker A: Ooh. So this is an all black bird with bright orange and red, like it looks like it’s going to war, probably, yes. Palm cockatoo. Yes. This is an action video, okay. Preceded by a weight loss ad.

[00:14:55] Speaker B: Oh, well, you know, skip.

[00:15:00] Speaker A: The palm cockatoo project.

[00:15:05] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:15:05] Speaker B: So if you’ve got laser shows and sweating drummers in your head, you’re going to be a little disappointed.

[00:15:10] Speaker A: Everything is popping up over my video. Come on, man.

[00:15:12] Speaker B: Well, yeah. So you think more of like a toddler banging on a table with a stick.

[00:15:17] Speaker A: Yeah. But like, very purposeful bird behavior, because right now it’s still making his tool. There we go. He’s got his tool.

[00:15:28] Speaker B: So in the wild, only the palm cockatoo has been seen using and making instruments on the regular. So what Amy’s watching is the males find a stick, they break it off. It’s like six inches long. Or they get a seed pod and they tap it on like a hollow log.

[00:15:43] Speaker A: And it seems to be kind of a specific kind of stick. Like, it looks like a little. The one that the first bird picks has a little nodule at the end of the wood. So it’s a little drumsticky looking.

[00:15:54] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:15:55] Speaker B: This isn’t like I’m just going to pick this up and bang it. They are selecting often they’re peeling the bark if they use a seed pod. These are big seed pods. Think almost like the pit of an avocado kind of size seed pod.

[00:16:08] Speaker A: Oh, really?

[00:16:09] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:16:09] Speaker B: And they are modifying it. There’s one bird, you see him land on a hollow, like a tree that’s broken off and it’s hollow on the inside. And he’s got this seed pit in his little claw and he’s bonking very rhythmically. 1234. And he stops and does some adjustment. Breaks the seed pod open a little wider. It does change the tone just a little bit.

Knocking again. So it turns out that playing a guitar on the beach trick. Except it’s like sticks and it works with ladybirds, really.

[00:16:43] Speaker A: All right. So the ladies like a drummer in the Palm cockatoo world.

[00:16:47] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:16:47] Speaker B: And I did find one where the little guys often they’re just banging and they’re making no sound. I did find one where he’s banging. And then it was singing, but it was more of, like, singing by yourself in the shower kind of way.

[00:17:02] Speaker A: Like he’s honing his craft.

[00:17:04] Speaker B: He’s just screaming. He’s like, yeah. And then more bonking and then more screaming.

I never saw a female approaching. Also rocking out.

[00:17:15] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:17:16] Speaker B: And part of the 2023 paper was to raise awareness about the palm cockatoo. Because they’re endangered.

Well, yeah. It turns out it takes a female about ten years to raise a young bird because of predation. It’s not that they’re with their mother for ten years, but it’s like they only lay one and then they have to raise it. Right. And so that replacing the population is difficult. And so the people who wrote the paper thought that by charming all of us with some sick beats that they might get some more funding to help preserve habitat.

[00:17:49] Speaker A: I feel like that’s a fair thing, especially the yoyo one that’s just yelling. Like he’s trying to figure it out.

[00:17:57] Speaker B: He needs some help. I mean, he needs a lot of help.

[00:18:00] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:18:02] Speaker A: When there’s different rhythms, too. I’m still kind of watching the video, and there’s one here that he’s doing the seed pod thing and he’s chomping it a little. And then he does thump, thump, thump, thump. Others just do. Thump thump is a beat.

[00:18:17] Speaker B: It’s not random. Like a kid with a hammer, just kind of.

[00:18:20] Speaker A: No, it’s very rhythmic.

[00:18:22] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:18:22] Speaker B: There is a definite rhythm, I think, compared to the bellbird. That’s just screaming at 100 decibels to get a lady.

[00:18:30] Speaker A: This is a lot.

[00:18:31] Speaker B: Like I said, this is a smooth jazz version of bird percussion. I prefer that. Yeah.

He doesn’t need to be flashy. All right.

He’s just trying to let you know he’s there, that’s all.

[00:18:46] Speaker A: And honestly, he looks flashy already. He’s got the look on lock. That’s good.

[00:18:52] Speaker C: Yes.

[00:18:52] Speaker B: The solid black, the little red highlight, a little pop of color.

[00:18:57] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:18:57] Speaker A: They’re going to look at female palm cockatoo.

[00:19:00] Speaker B: I think they look exactly the same. But now I don’t know, I just.

[00:19:04] Speaker A: Was thinking I was going to ask you that, and I’m like, you’d have.

[00:19:06] Speaker B: To look it up.

[00:19:07] Speaker A: I may as well. I don’t know.

[00:19:08] Speaker B: I can’t research everything. This is everything about birds. I don’t know, everything.

They still are showing kind of the same.

[00:19:18] Speaker A: Yeah. Some of these. I’m not clicking through links. And so the bright ones with the bright orangey red cheeks seem to be males. They’re showing some with a peachy sort of insert and some that are all gray and black. So there does seem to be a range.

[00:19:36] Speaker B: Although it says that they are monomorphic and cannot be sexed by eye color.

[00:19:41] Speaker A: You can’t just look.

[00:19:43] Speaker B: Yeah, they’re maybe a little bigger.

[00:19:45] Speaker C: Yeah.

[00:19:45] Speaker A: Okay.

[00:19:46] Speaker B: The big guy with the stick. Clearly a guy.

[00:19:49] Speaker A: That’s cool. Well, that is everything. We never knew we wanted to know about birds, right? I am not bored.

[00:19:56] Speaker B: There’s ants, there’s death defying feats. There’s musical instruments. And then I was like, I can’t find anything else.

[00:20:04] Speaker A: No. Do you wonder how many of those ants, when the bird can no longer stand it, do not make it out? They’re like, shake a shake a shaker and squish. That’s the end of it. Because some of the shake a shaker, they go, they probably. And at the end of the video, the big bird takes off. So ants falling from the sky as it goes.

[00:20:26] Speaker B: Yeah.

[00:20:27] Speaker A: Just a snack.

[00:20:27] Speaker B: Just a snack.

[00:20:29] Speaker A: Excellent.

[00:20:31] Speaker B: And that’s birds awesome.

[00:20:34] Speaker A: Trace is good about putting links in for the things she talks about. So go visit us@brainjunkpodcast.com. And oftentimes there’s a fun little nugget in our social media. How about you go to Brain junk podcast on Facebook or Instagram? That is where you will find fun little nuggets.

You can also ask your smart speaker to play episodes if you don’t know what to do next. That’s always a good move. What else? We have a merch store. If you want to drink your beverage out of a brain junk, tumbler or mug, hit the merch store at brainjunkpodcast.com. And find a little treasure. And I will you next time when we share more of everything you never knew you wanted to know, and we definitely guarantee you will not be bored.

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