do birds eat carpenter ants

Have you ever seen a bird hunting ants? Maybe youve seen one digging in the ground and wondered what they were feeding on? This article will go through which types of birds eat ants, how they catch them, and what types of ants they eat.

Many species of birds eat ants as part of their diets regularly. Birds that have a particular fondness for ants include; woodpeckers, pigeons, pheasants, sparrows, starlings, hummingbirds, crows, wild turkeys, antbirds, wrens and grouse. Birds that consume ants less frequently include little owls, robins, blackbirds and cardinals.

Ant Eating Bird Species

Ants are a common food source for most birds; some consume them exclusively, while others are more opportunistic.

Smaller birds would much rather eat ants, but larger birds rarely do so because catching them can be very energy-demanding for less nimble, larger birds, and consuming ants will require a lot more of them to meet their nutritional needs.

Generally speaking, woodpeckers consume more ants than any other kind of bird. They adore them! Occasionally, ants can supplement a woodpecker’s diet more than 20% of its total calories.

It’s common to see Pileated Woodpeckers, European Green Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Downy Woodpeckers foraging in backyards and gardens for ants, larvae, and eggs.

They will dig their beaks into the ground, forage on the ground, and use their sticky tongues to eat the ants as they hunt for them. Northern flicker and green woodpeckers that feed on the ground are more likely to use this technique.

In areas like cedar trees, other woodpeckers—such as the Pileated Woodpecker—will search for ants. For the sake of some black carpenter ants, they make large, rectangular incisions with their strong beaks in the hopes of striking gold. After that, they will eat hundreds of ants whole.

In the winter, when ants are less plentiful, woodpeckers will consume fruit, seeds, and other invertebrates.

It has been observed that Northern Flickers can eat more than 5,000 ants in a single meal!

Pileated Woodpecker eating ants

Because starlings are omnivores, they will eat almost anything, including ants. Most of the time, they are observed swarming gardens in large groups to feed while sweeping up insects, especially ants.

Although they don’t consume ants as frequently as some of the other birds, crows and ravens are frequently observed scouring lawns for insects and devouring ants when they do.

Ant eating is limited to smaller owls, like the Elf and Little Owls, and can be extremely uncommon. This is because owls would need a large number of ants to meet their needs, and since they aren’t experts at hunting them either, it makes more sense in terms of effort versus reward for them to eat more large insects and mammals.

Two of the most prevalent pigeon species that are frequently seen eating ants are wood pigeons and doves. One of the explanations for this is that, in general, ants are far more plentiful in their habitats.

Birds that eat ants in the US include:

  • Northern Flickers
  • Downy Woodpeckers
  • Pileated Woodpeckers
  • Starlings
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • American Robin
  • Song Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Crow
  • Common Raven
  • Gray Catbird
  • Wild Turkey

Birds that eat ants in the UK include:

  • Green Woodpeckers
  • Robins
  • Blackbirds
  • Pheasants
  • Starlings
  • Wrens
  • Swallows
  • Sparrows
  • Common Raven
  • Blue Tits
  • Great Tits

White-crowned Sparrow with ant in its beak

Can Some Ants Fight Back? Which Ants Spell Trouble For Birds?

Some ants fight back by spraying formic acid on them. Ants emit chemicals to alert other ants to their danger and request assistance.

Red fire ants tend to kill small birds.

According to 2007 research published by Texas A&M University, ‘red imported fire ants may be killing as many as a fifths of baby songbirds before they leave the nest.’

In nests that weren’t treated with pesticides to keep ants out, just 10% of the tiny birds made it.

How Birds Forage For Ants

The majority of birds will pluck ants from the ground, usually on lawns. While most other birds forage on the ground and dig with their beaks to claim their snacks, woodpeckers use their long, sticky tongues to pick up ants from the ground. They do not, however, have sticky tongues.

This technique of sticking the beak into the ground works well for catching other insects beneath the grass as well, such as worms and spiders.

The sole drawback for birds that hunt for ants on the ground is that it increases their susceptibility to foxes, snakes, and cats, among other predators. This explains why birds typically favor eating off of trees, plants, and feeders rather than the ground.

Birds will also hunt ants on branches, trees and plants.

Wryneck feeding on ants with long sticky tongue


What is a predator to carpenter ants?

Bears and skunks both love to destroy ant nests and eat the ants inside. Carpenter Ants are a main source of food for young grouse and pileated woodpeckers. Smaller woodpeckers, along with some songbird species, also eat ants.

Do backyard birds eat ants?

Related behaviours. Dusting with soil from ant-hills has been considered by some as equivalent to anting. Some birds like antbirds and flickers not only ant, but also consume the ants as an important part of their diet. Other opportunist ant-eating birds include sparrows, wrens, grouse and starlings.

What kind of birds eat fire ants?

Across the USA, purple martins likely eat billions of fire ant queens each year, potentially impacting the spread of this species.

What are carpenter ants afraid of?

Essential oils disorient and deter carpenter ants by disrupting their communication channels and pheromone trails. Some of the most effective essential oils for naturally repelling carpenter ants at home are peppermint, lemongrass, tea tree, lemon, orange, cayenne pepper, clove, and cedarwood.