Ants are a plentiful resource found in a wide variety of habitats, so it is no surprise that some birds take advantage of them as a food source. But, they can be hard to get to in their underground tunnels or deep within rotting wood. Let’s look at ten birds that eat ants and how they go about consuming them.
10 Birds That Eat Ants
While there are a number of birds that eat ants all over the globe, this list concentrates on those that live within the United States.
1. Northern Flicker
Scientific Name: Colaptes auratus
Northern flickers are medium sized woodpeckers known for their distinctive plumage; a mix of spots, stripes, and colorful feathers. Like most woodpeckers they can drill into trees to find insects. However the flicker also likes to find insects on the ground. You may spot them walking around your lawn, searching for bugs by either digging through leaf litter or pecking into the ground.
Ants are a favorite of the flicker. Once they’ve located an anthill or a collection of them underground, they can peck holes into the soil and stick in their extra long tongue. The ants easily get stuck to their tongue and dozens can be consumed in one gulp. If a flicker strikes gold, they can eat hundreds or thousands of ants at one time.
2. Downy Woodpecker
Scientific Name: Picoides pubescens
The Downy Woodpecker also likes the taste of ants. Downys are the smallest of the U.S. woodpeckers, with white bellies, a black and white striped face and black wings with white spots. While small, they are quite skilled foragers.
These adaptable birds frequently target ants hidden in tree bark and foliage, showcasing their precision in foraging by drilling and picking behind bark and in crevices. They like forests, woodlots, and orchards, but you can find them in urban areas too. They tend to avoid the deep southwest but are widespread elsewhere in the U.S.
3. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus varius
Inhabitants of eastern North America, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are best known for their sap-feeding habits. Members of the woodpecker family, they look and behave much the same way. However sapsuckers specialize in feeding on tree sap. They drill rows of holes in precise locations on sap-bearing trees, then lap up the sap that flows into the holes.
Sapsuckers will often return again and again to the same wells, re-drilling them to keep the sap flowing. Insects, especially ants, are also attracted to the sweet sap. In this way, the sap can act as a bit of an ant-trap, and the sapsuckers will happily enjoy the extra treats stuck in the sap. Like other woodpeckers, they will also go after carpenter ant infested trees.
4. American Robin
Scientific Name: Turdus migratorius
American Robins are cheerful songsters seen all across America. This well-known bird is recognized by its yellow beak, black body, and burnt orange chest. They also lay pale blue eggs that are so popular they even have a color named after them (robin’s egg blue).
While primarily earthworm consumers, they diversify their diet with many insects, including ants. Surely they come across many anthills with easy pickings while searching across lawns for worms! Other favorite foods for robins include snails, spiders, and fruit.
5. American Crow
Scientific Name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
Honestly, crows could make it onto every list discussing bird diets because they will eat just about everything, including ants. Widespread across the U.S., American Crows aren’t picky. You’ll see them traveling in noisy groups and hopping across your lawn looking for food.
The crow is a well-known scavenger and an opportunistic feeder, making a meal out of everything from french fries lying in a McDonald’s parking lot to carrion to little ants on a hill. This diversity helps them thrive and contributes to their healthy population.
6. Carolina Wren
Scientific Name: Thryothorus ludovicianus
One of my personal favorite birds to see in the wild is the Carolina Wren. They live across the southeastern United States, and have slowly been moving their range further and further north. These wrens feed on a variety of insects including caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, snails, lizards, and ants. They forage in leaf litter and crevices, making them adaptable insectivores.
Their sweet songs and adaptability to both urban and rural environments make them charismatic members of the ecosystem. The Carolina Wren is small and brown with a light brown chest and a white stripe going over its eye, spanning to the back of its head.
7. Pileated Woodpecker
Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus
If you’ve ever seen Woody Woodpecker, you know exactly what the Pileated Woodpecker looks like. They’re large birds (the largest woodpeckers in North America, in fact) with black bodies, white and black striped faces, and prominent red crowns on their heads. Inhabiting mature forests, seeing these birds swooping from tree to tree is a treat.
They have powerful chisel-like bills that drill into the sides of trees and rotting wood to reach the insects inside. They especially love carpenter ants, and will excavate huge holes seeking out their nests. If you’ve ever seen a tree with a hole dug in it large enough to fit your fist in, it’s probably a Pileated woodpecker hole. While carpenter ants make up a large portion of their diet, they also eat other insects like termites and beetle larvae.
8. Cedar Waxwing
Scientific Name: Bombycilla cedrorum
Cedar Waxwings are beautiful birds found in the northern part of the U.S. all year round and the southern half in the winter. They are mainly fruit enthusiasts but eat ants and other insects too, particularly during the breeding season.
You could recognize them by the black “bandit” mask they have across their eyes. They have a tawny brown upper half, gray wings and a yellow lower belly. Their wispy feathers give them a sleek and soft appearance. You may be able to spot their namesake red, waxy tips along their secondary wing feathers.
9. Song Sparrow
Scientific Name: Melospiza melodia
These charming, small brown and white-striped birds are distributed across the U.S. You might find them where you live, depending on the time of year. They like to hang around gardens, thickets, the brush, and beside marshes and streams hunting insects. Known for their melodious song, you’ve probably heard them singing from an open perch in the spring.
Song sparrows are primarily seed-eaters, but they also eat a variety of insects, especially in the summertime. Ants, caterpillars, beetles, wasps, and spiders all make their insect menu. These birds forage on the ground and where there’s low vegetation.
10. Yellow-rumped Warbler
Scientific name: Setophaga coronata
After spending the summer breeding season across Alaska, Canada and parts of the northwest, these little warblers spread out to winter across much of the U.S. and Mexico. During fall migration they are easiest to find, as they appear in large numbers and hunt insects conspicuously from the outer limbs of trees.
While many warbler species stick to trees for their foraging, the yellow-rumped warbler is extremely versatile. They search trees and bushes, fly out to catch bugs in the air and forage on the ground. They will pick ants off any surface they happen to find them, as well as eating them from the ground when they encounter an anthill. Caterpillars, beetles, weevils, aphids, gnats, spiders and fruits also make up their diet.
Kim is an avid bird watcher and owner in South Carolina. She loves identifying, studying, and feeding her feathered friends in their natural habitats. She also has first-hand experience as the owner of several species of exotic birds.