do birds like the smell of mothballs

Q. I throw mothballs under my car to keep squirrels from chewing on the wiring, but the blackbirds won’t leave them alone! The mothballs end up all over the place. What’s the deal with these blackbirds?

A. As Ms. Oakley might have sung in “Annie Get Your Gun,” they’re just a-doin’ what comes naturally — albeit a little unnaturally in your case.

You may have never heard of it, but ornithologists are fascinated by a behavior in birds called “anting.” Since German researcher Erwin Stresemann first described the practice in 1935, scientists say they have witnessed more than 250 species of birds engage in a ritual of rubbing live ants over their feathers, according to Mike O’Connor at the Bird Watcher’s General Store in Orleans, Mass.

You’re probably thinking it’s a disgusting behavior that truly merits the popular put-down of “birdbrain.” But hold on a moment. Although the birds themselves can’t explain it to us, scientists have come up with a couple of theories that indicate birds may be more intelligent than you might think. (Except, of course, when they start substituting other objects — including mothballs — for ants.)

Here’s the deal: When danger threatens, many ants secrete a smelly substance called formic acid to repel their would-be predators. In fact, O’Connor notes, the name “formic” comes from “formica,” the Latin word for “ant.” Now, this acid isn’t going to help the ant much if a blue jay is out looking for lunch, but it can benefit the bird itself.

For starters, if you look underneath those handsome feathers on a bird, you might find a nasty world teeming with ectoparasites. These pests include mites and fleas, which find a comfortable roost on the bird.

Obviously, the bird can’t fly to Target for a Hartz Mountain flea collar, so it does the next best thing: According to one popular theory, birds grab ants with their bills so they can rub this ant acid (not to be confused with Rolaids, as O’Connor quips) into their feathers, which may cause the parasites to hop off and leave the birds pest-free. Some think the acid may help soothe the bird’s skin from the irritation caused by the mites.

Starlings, tanagers and weavers (to name a few) actively seek out Formicine ants, suggesting that the insects’ ability to spray formic acid is an important consideration. In fact, many scientists have described the birds as becoming “exceedingly excited” during the anting process.

“Some birds also participate in what is known as ‘passive anting,’” O’Connor says of such birds as crows, waxbills and European jays. “The bird will simply plop itself down in the middle of an ant hill, spread out its feathers and let the ants climb all over it. The theory is that the hungry ants will find and eat the parasites while the bird enjoys a few minutes lying in the sun.”

But wait, there’s more! Once the bird is finished spreading the acid on its body, it will simply devour what’s left of the ant as perhaps a treat much as someone might enjoy a piece of chocolate and a glass of champagne in a soapy, hot bath after a hard day at the office. As a result, it is thought that birds have learned through eons of evolution that squeezing out the poisonous acid made the ants safe to eat while leaving the birds’ bodies cleaner as a side benefit. However, which came first is another chicken-or-the egg question, although it has been noted that a bird will eat the ant without rubbing it on his body if scientists remove the acid before the ant is given to the bird.

If ants aren’t handy, the birds will freely substitute, as you yourself have seen firsthand. Some use millipedes or puss moth caterpillars, which also produce powerful defensive chemicals. However, birds have been seen rubbing more than 40 other items over their feathers, including lemons, walnuts, apple peels — and mothballs.

“Even more bizarre is ‘smoke bathing,’” EcoPort says. “Birds such as rooks have been observed standing on smoking chimneys with their wings spread open in a similar posture to some birds when anting. Birds have also been seen to use smoking cigarette butts for anting. On other occasions, both houses and trees have been set alight by birds taking live cigarettes back to their nests. No one really knows why.”

A serious conclusion: While my answer has been somewhat lighthearted, you (and everyone else) should know that using mothballs as you do is strictly illegal, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They are a registered pesticide and can be used only as prescribed on the product. If a neighbor’s pet — or child — would eat your mothballs and become sick or die, you could face your own stink that would make a mothball smell pleasant by comparison.

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Answer to Sunday’s trivia: When herring are small, they are often called “sardines” because they originally became popular when they were caught off the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea.

The bird will simply eat what’s left of the ant as a treat once it has finished spreading the acid over its body, similar to how someone might enjoy a piece of chocolate and a glass of champagne in a hot, soapy bath after a demanding day at work. But wait, there’s more! Therefore, it is believed that over eons of evolution, birds have learned that, in addition to making the ants safe to eat, squeezing out the poisonous acid also leaves the birds’ bodies cleaner. Though it has been observed that if scientists remove the acid before giving the ant to the bird, the bird will eat it without rubbing it on his body, which begs the question of which came first.

As you have personally witnessed, birds will readily replace ants in a pinch. Some employ the caterpillars of puss moths or millipedes, which also release potent defensive compounds. But birds have also been observed rubbing more than forty other objects, such as mothballs, apple peels, walnuts, and lemons, over their feathers.

Even though you may not be familiar with it, ornithologists are enthralled with a bird behavior known as “anting.” According to Mike O’Connor of the Bird Watcher’s General Store in Orleans, Massachusetts, scientists have observed more than 250 different species of birds performing the ritual of rubbing live ants over their feathers since German researcher Erwin Stresemann first reported it in 1935.

I know what you’re thinking—that’s an abhorrent habit that really deserves to be called “birdbrain.” ” But hold on a moment. Despite the fact that the birds themselves are unable to explain it to us, scientists have developed a few theories suggesting that birds may be more intelligent than previously believed. (That is, until they begin using other things in place of ants, like mothballs.) ).

Q. I toss mothballs beneath my car to deter squirrels from gnawing on the wiring, but the mothballs wind up all over the place because blackbirds won’t leave them alone! What’s the deal with these blackbirds?.

A word of caution: I wrote, “100% effective against gray squirrels,” in the previous paragraph, in case you missed it. These feeders won’t deter raccoons, chipmunks, or red squirrels—especially the latter two. Although the Squirrel Busters feeders are incredibly sturdy, raccoons will destroy them with the same glee as a child opening a Christmas present. (FYI: Keeping raccoons away from feeders is complicated and expensive. Bringing your feeders inside during the night, when raccoons are most active, is my recommendation. ).

Mike O’Connor and the employees of the Bird Watcher’s General Store in Orleans are the authors of this column. Original artwork is supplied by Cathy Clark. If you would like to ask the bird experts a question, send an email to bwgs. capecod@verizon. net or call 508-255-6974.

I appreciate you reaching out to me prior to taking action on your mothball theory. I can tell you right away that this is not a wise decision. Despite the fact that your radical squirrel prevention idea is not unique, You would not believe the absurd—and frequently harmful—things people have done to discourage squirrels. I’ve heard of catapults and electrified birdfeeders made to launch squirrels skyward. I’ve even seen squirrel Voodoo dolls. (Believe me, they don’t work, or at least mine didn’t). Although I’ve said it previously, not everyone enjoys feeding birds as a hobby. There is no excuse for being cruel to any creature, especially in the name of saving a little birdseed, so if it gets too upsetting, collect stamps. Okay, I’m off my soapbox. On to mothballs.

I’ve heard that mothballs repel squirrels. Could I put mothballs in my bird feeders and would that be safe for the birds? Please advise.

Mothballs don’t deter squirrels, so it would be a waste of time to use them in the first place. How do I know, you ask? Here’s how. Ralph, my former neighbor, believed that keeping his bird seed in a shed would keep it safe. But since the floor of Ralph’s shed was made of dirt, the squirrels just burrowed in and consumed the seed. (Ralph was mad, but I thought it was funny. Ralph then used a whole box of mothballs to completely fill the tunnel. The next day mothballs were scattered everywhere. Ralph’s yard resembled the Easter egg roll on the White House’s South Lawn. The squirrels had simply moved the foul-smelling mothballs out of the way with their noses and skittered through the tunnel. Once again, Ralph’s birdseed was eaten. He became more irate, and naturally, I found it more humorous.


What odor do birds hate?

Are you wondering, “Can birds smell?” and “What smell deters birds?” Yes, some home remedies such as apple cider vinegar, peppermint, and chili pepper flakes may have a small repelling effect on birds. But nothing comes close to how birds hate the smell of the food grade ingredient, Methyl Anthranilate.

Are mothballs harmful to birds?

Mothballs contain naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene, which are toxic and can be harmful to humans and animals if ingested or inhaled. Secondly, mothballs have a limited range of effectiveness and may not be effective in repelling all types of wildlife.

What animals do not like the smell of mothballs?

Some of these “off-label pests” include: squirrels, skunks, deer, mice, rats, and snakes, among others animals. Use mothballs pesticide products to control the pests listed on the label only! Outdoor use of mothballs is also a violation of the label. Remember mothballs are not legal for use as snake repellents!

Will moth balls keep Robins away?

Mothballs are frequently suggested as wildlife deterrents in both indoor and outdoor areas. These solutions are ineffective, dangerous to humans and pets, and illegal in some cases.