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Covering Your Tail

This Turkey Tuesday is about covering your tail, or in popular slang, the ole CYA! Like other birds, wild turkeys have feathers called coverts that cover the bases of the flight feathers. The purpose of these feathers is to smooth airflow over the tail during flight, but obviously turkeys spend most of their time on the ground, so these feathers serve other important functions. In the 1st picture by Stephen Spurlock, you can see the coverts under the tail feathers – these are termed ventral. In the 2nd picture by Matt Addington, you can see the upper tail coverts – termed dorsal. The coverts are in rows, and the rows overlap each other like roof shingles – this overlap smooths airflow, but it also ensures weatherproofing, allowing the feathers to act just like the shingles on a roof. But in turkeys, these upper tail coverts serve another important function – they attract attention when toms are strutting. If you look at the 2nd picture, you can see that the iridescent feathers on the back transition seamlessly into the rows of coverts, and the coverts even contain additional iridescence themselves. Lastly, these tail coverts differ amongst the subspecies, being tipped in dark brown in the eastern subspecies, tan in Rio Grandes, to cream and white in Merriam’s and Gould’s. The take home is, in the turkey world the adage of covering your tail takes on a whole new meaning.

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