Antbirds were given their name because of their special feeding behavior. In the rainforest colonies of ants often move together in huge swarms or columns when they are hunting for food. As the ants move, they stir up insects and small animals, such as mice and lizards. Antbirds have learned to take advantage of the movement of these ants, especially swarms of red army ants and black rain ants. The antbirds follow a column
Flying Through the Mail
In 1980 the Central American country of Belize featured the barred ant-shrike on its 25 cent postage stamp.
of moving ants and pick off insects and small animals that are trying to get away from the hungry ants. In a sense, the ants do the birds' hunting for them.
Ant colonies are so important to antbirds that that older male birds will drive younger, weaker birds out of their territory in order to keep them away from the ant colonies. During nesting season, antbirds usually wait for ant columns to pass their nests, but other times of they year they actively look for and follow moving ant colonies.
Antbirds also perform a grooming or cleaning behavior that involves ants. The birds pick up ants in their bills and rub them into their feathers. This is called "anting." Scientists believe that when the ants are crushed, their bodies release formic acid, which kills parasites, organisms that live on other organisms, living on the birds' feathers. A few antbird species also allow live ants to crawl through their feathers and eat insects that are attached to their skin.
Although much is not known about the reproductive behavior of antbirds, it appears that they mate with a single partner for life. The location and shape of antbird nests varies depending on the species. Ground antbirds often build closed, rounded nests directly on the forest floor. Other species build deep cup-shaped nests on low branches. Some species use holes in trees or rotting logs.
Antbirds usually lay two light-colored eggs that hatch within fourteen to seventeen days. Both parents share the job of incubating, sitting on the nest to provide warmth for chick development, the eggs. Young antbirds are able to leave the nest and hunt for food soon after they are born.
The ant thrush family is of interest mainly to ornithologists, scientists who study birds, and birdwatchers interested in ecotourism, travel for the purpose of studying wildlife and the environment.
In 2003, four species of antbirds were considered Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction, or dying out, in the wild. These were the fringe-backed fire-eye, the Rio de Janeiro antwren, the Alagoas antwren, and the Rondonia bushbird. Sixteen other species were considered
Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction, and eleven species were classified as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction. The main reason these birds are at risk for extinction is loss of habitat due to human activities such as farming, mining, and development.
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