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Eye On The Sky

This Turkey Tuesday is about the need for turkeys to keep an eye on the sky. Wild turkeys have keen vision that allows them to detect even slight movements around them, which is their primary means of detecting danger. Basically, each eye works like a periscope and because the eyes are located on the sides of their heads, turkeys have an almost 360-degree view around them. If you watch turkeys, they constantly scan around them by making slight movements to their heads so that they’re able to detect potential threats. Many threats to turkeys come from ground level, but if you’ve watched turkeys enough you’ve noticed that they also frequently look up – and there’s good reason. Aerial predators can be an important source of mortality for turkeys both when they’re young and as adults. Golden eagles kill adults, and it’s common to see bald eagles harass adults although it’s unclear how effective they are at killing adults. Various species of hawks routinely take young poults as they’re foraging, and other species of owls will kill poults both while they’re foraging and while they’re roosted at night. An Achilles heel for wild turkeys is their night vision – because of the photoreceptors in their eyes, they have excellent vision during the day but comparatively poor vision at night. This is one reason wild turkeys roost at night above ground – to avoid predation when they have trouble detecting it. But that doesn’t help them against great-horned owls – we’ve seen that great-horned owls are in many areas prominent predators of adults, and adults that are killed are killed at their roosts. The take home is, wild turkeys deal with threats from many predators including birds of prey, which forces them to scrutinize what is not only around them, but above them.

Picture by Darcy Daniels @darcydphotography.

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  1. One day while deer hunting on Davis Island, Mississippi, I came upon three gobbler carcasses lying together. I concluded that the Great Horned Owl was the culprit.