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Dusting and Molting

This Turkey Tuesday is about dusting and molting, 2 things that go hand-in-hand during late summer. Dusting is an activity all turkeys do, but late summer into early fall is a period when the activity really peaks. Basically, the bird lays down in bare soil, flaps its wings, and rolls around in the dirt. It’s believed that turkeys dust to help control lice and mites, but there’s also evidence they do it to help soothe skin irritation associated with molting. In fact, some turkeys will dust in areas with ants, literally ending up with ants all over their bodies – the ants serve as a natural way of dealing with pests. Not only will individual turkeys dust a lot during late summer, but groups of birds – particularly young birds hatched the prior spring – will dust in groups like the birds in the 2nd picture. The collective result is that turkey feathers are easy to find in late summer because so much molting is occurring. The 3rd image really shows that, which is a figure published by the late Lovett Williams based on his decades of research on wild turkeys in Florida. Depending on when birds within a population were hatched, an individual may be in various stages of molt during late summer – but the common theme is – young turkeys are really active in molting during late summer, which is why you’ll see a single bird having feathers from various stages of the molting sequence. This causes those birds to look a bit odd, because they may have some feathers that look like juvenal feathers and others that look like adults. The take home is, molting and dusting are in full swing across wild turkey range, which makes it a good time to get outside and look for turkey feathers in your neck of the woods.


Pictures of wild turkeys © Tes Randle Jolly

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