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Tail Feathers

This Turkey Tuesday is about tail feathers – it’s also the last Turkey Tuesday of 2022, so in that way it’s the tail-end of another year thinking about wild turkeys. Like other birds, wild turkeys use their tails for stabilization, steering, and braking during flights. The tails on heavy-bodied birds like turkeys have their work cut out for them when it comes to assisting with flight, because it takes a long, stout feather and quite a few of them to compensate for the bird’s weight. But unlike many birds, wild turkeys obviously use their tails in display – a tom’s tail fan is an important part of his display to attract attention from hens. Those same tail fans are involved in social status, as strutting and displaying around other toms contributes to the maintenance of dominance hierarchies. Interestingly, you’ll often read that wild turkeys have 18 fail feathers and although 18 is the most common number, you’ll see many derivations of that number. If you count from the center of the fan, you typically see 9 feathers on each side like the birds in this picture. However, it’s not rare to see an odd number on one side, such as 10 on one side and 9 on another, and sometimes you’ll see a bird with 10 or even more feathers on each side of the tail fan. As with feather coloration, you simply see a lot of plumage variation in wild turkeys and tail feathers are no exception. The take home is, tail feathers and tail fans are important, functional, and recognizable parts of the birds we cherish. And like the toms in this picture, those fans have us soon saying goodbye to 2022 and hello to 2023, which also gets us closer to next spring’s season!

© Tes Randle Jolly

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