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Dust Bathing

This Turkey Tuesday is about an interesting behavior wild turkeys use, that sometimes gets spiced up with the inclusion of common insects. As spring turns to summer, dust bathing is something that all wild turkeys do – adults and poults alike. These baths are a form of self-maintenance, as they help maintain the condition of feathers, particularly as birds are growing new feathers. Dusting often happens in the same places each day, with the bird laying down where they press their wings and tails onto the ground. Once on the ground, the bird just lays on its breast and flaps its wings, which throws dirt all over the body – sometimes they will also use their head to sling dirt onto the back and wings. And if you’ve ever been blessed enough to watch turkeys dust bath, some of them really get into it! Interestingly, turkeys will also dust in ant mounds – intentionally, termed anting. By doing so, the bird provokes the ants to bite feathers and release compounds that are toxicants – a natural form of pest control. In fact, there’s evidence that some birds preen the ants into their feathers, which crushes them and wipes the compounds on their feathers. This behavior is believed to be a way for turkeys to help mitigate issues with feather mites and lice, but there may be other explanations as well. The take home is wild turkeys have behaviors such as dust bathing and anting that serve purposes ranging from self-maintenance to comfort, and likely some purposes that are entirely unknown – regardless, who doesn’t love wallowing around in the dirt?

Pics by Rc Gilliland

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