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It goes without saying that termites make for ideal prey. Termites must remain mindful of enemy insect attacks constantly. To put it simply, termites are at the mercy of basically every animal that they share environments with. Next to insects, birds are the most common termite predators. There are many bird species that rely solely on insects for sustenance. Birds rely heavily on protein-rich food sources in order to fuel their uniquely high metabolism. Since birds demonstrate a high degree of physical activity, high nutrient foods are a must. Termites are one of the most sought after insect food sources among numerous bird species, which makes sense given the relatively high nutritional value of termites. However, termites are not just mere food sources to birds; in fact, termites can serve many different purposes to several bird species.


Generally speaking, birds are relatively vulnerable to disease. It is not uncommon for birds to pick up ectoparasites or mites within their feathers. The amount of pathogens and parasites in bird feathers builds up over time. In order to remedy this potential problem, many bird species take advantage of pathogen-killing insect species. For example, some birds allow large groups of ants to crawl within their feathers. This is an effective antibacterial cleansing method as many ant species secrete acidic compounds that kill ectoparasites, pathogens, and mites. As it turns out, birds can use termites for the very same purpose in case ants cannot be located.


Sometimes, termite-loving birds can become reckless in their pursuit of tasty and nutritious termite meals. For example, cardinals possess a particular beak design that does not allow for the scooping-up of small insects on solid surfaces, like a boulder. One researcher observed a group of cardinals struggling to obtain large amounts of termites that were crawling frantically on the surface of a boulder. Since the cardinals were unable to obtain the termites with their beaks, they got creative and hovered over the boulder in order to allow their feathers to make contact with the termite-infested boulder. At this point, numerous termites crawled up to the birds wings where they were promptly accessed and consumed by the ravenous cardinals. This clever trick serves as the clearest expression of tool-use among foraging birds.


Do you think that birds become more resourceful and inventive in their foraging activities if they are starved for insect food sources?


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