The Grackle’s Berry Rubbing Ritual

Have you ever come across a grackle engaged in an unexpected activity? Well, I recently witnessed a scene that left me befuddled – a Grackle rubbing a sumac berry on its feathers. And, to my surprise, it wasn’t just a one-time occurrence. I saw several of these birds indulging in this unusual behavior.

Common Grackle Rubbing A Sumac Berry On Its Feather
Common Grackle Rubbing A Sumac Berry On Its Feather

The Mystery of Anting: An Avian Practice

As I delved deeper into the matter, I learned that this behavior is known as “anting.” Birds, as it turns out, rub insects, primarily ants, on their feathers and skin as a form of grooming. These creatures may pick up the insects using their beaks and apply them to their bodies (active anting), or they may simply bask in a place filled with insects and perform dust-bath-like movements (passive anting).

The Secret Sauce: The Benefits of Anting

So, what do the insects bring to the table, you ask? Well, the excretions from these tiny creatures contain compounds like formic acid, which serve as insecticides, miticides, fungicides, or bactericides. Anting may also make the insects more palatable by either neutralizing the unpleasant acid or enhancing the bird’s natural preen oil.

Sumac Berries Join the Anting A-List

While the practice of anting is well documented, the appearance of sumac berries in this equation was new to me. I chanced upon an article by Laura Erickson that shed some light on the subject. It mentioned that birds have been recorded anting with various items like beetles, mealworms, citrus fruits, coffee grinds, vinegar, beer, hot chocolate, soapsuds, and, yes, you guessed it, sumac berries.

Capturing the Moment: A Photographic Expedition

I came upon this captivating sight at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. A group of grackles had perched themselves on a sumac tree near the asphalt section of the auto tour road (Sandtown Bottoms). I had my camera and lens ready, resting on a bean bag draped over the open window of my pickup, and clicked away.

Gear Used:

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: Canon EF 800 mm f/11


  • Location:Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge (Oklahoma)
  • Date and Time Taken: July 31, 2021 (8:07 A.M.)
  • Exposure Mode: Manual
  • Aperture: f11 (Fixed)
  • Shutter speed: 1/1250
  • ISO: 8000 (Auto)
  • Focal Length: 800 mm (Fixed)

Note: Someone shared a link on my Facebook post in reference to Common Grackle Anting with Lime Fruit and Its Effect on Ectoparasites