Research Article

Ants (Formicidae) as food for birds in southern Africa: opportunism or survival?

Published in: Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology
Volume 89, issue 1, 2018 , pages: 1–4
DOI: 10.2989/00306525.2017.1382017
Author(s): W Richard J DeanDST-NRF Centre of Excellence at the FitzPatrick Institute, South Africa, Suzanne J MiltonSouth African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), South Africa
Keywords: ants, birds, diet


Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) are eaten by a number of bird species in southern Africa. Our database contained 545 species (excluding waterbirds and raptors), of which 179 species have been observed feeding on ants, or had ants in their stomachs. Ants are eaten by birds in all ecosystems, but the consumption of ants is disproportionately high in species that occur in arid ecosystems. The number of bird species eating ants increases in proportion to the number of bird species in any ecosystem, but it increases disproportionately with decreasing mean annual rainfall. There was a small, but not significant, difference in the proportion of ant-eating bird species between 502 resident species, of which 154 (30.6%) eat ants, and 47 nomadic species, of which 18 (38.2%) eat ants. Foraging behaviour and substrate, i.e. whether foraging in the air, from a perch or on the ground, significantly influenced the probability that ants would be included in the diet.

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