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When Wild Turkeys Fly

This Turkey Tuesday is about flight, something we often don’t think about when we think of wild turkeys. Obviously, wild turkeys spend most of their day on the ground and they are supremely adapted to doing so – keen vision and hearing, wariness, and speed on the run. But flight is a critically important component of how wild turkeys survive. Turkeys are heavy birds with relatively large wings, so they have a wing loading (their body mass divided by the area of the wings) that’s a bit different from many birds. Their wings are elliptical, so they’re adapted to relatively slow flight but by design, these wings allow them to make sudden bursts of flight and then maneuver through obstacles such as trees – and avoid predators. And large birds like turkeys generate enough lift to take flight by gaining speed just prior to take-off, which is why turkeys briefly run (or sprint!) just before taking flight. In fact, the take-off is the most energetically demanding part of flight, because the bird has to generate airflow over the wings to produce lift – one way to get around this issue is to drop into the air from a perched location and sail to the intended destination. Wild turkeys drop from perched locations when they leave the roost, but they’ll also fly into trees during the day and sail to other locations as necessary. Regardless, once they’ve dropped into the air like the hen in this cool picture by Joe Foster, turkeys can then adjust their wings and tails like rudders, to direct their flight paths and make sudden directional changes that many of us turkey hunters have witnessed firsthand. The take home is, wild turkeys are not often thought of because of their flight capabilities, but they possess keen abilities to use flight for survival and support of their daily activities.

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