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Wild Turkey Feather Facts – One May Surprise You

THROWBACK TT Sept 7th, 2021 | This Turkey Tuesday is about wild turkey feathers. Would it surprise you to know that wild turkeys have between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers?! These feathers are arranged in tracts (called pterylae) – turkeys don’t grow feathers all over their bodies, but instead, feathers grow from tracts and these “rows” of feathers overlap to provide complete coverage of the body. Turkeys have at least 8 kinds of feathers that provide everything from insulation, to flight, to ornamentation. Late spring through summer is a good time to find feathers while you’re out in the woods, as turkeys are molting (replacing feathers) during this time. Once a turkey is an adult, they molt all of their feathers once annually to ensure that they’re “wearing their best suit” if you will. Feathers along the tracts molt in a way where adjacent feathers are not molted simultaneously, which ensures that the body is completely covered by feathers even during molting. And, reproductive status appears to influence molting – hens that are nesting and toms focused on breeding delay molting until these important activities are complete. Molting can be influenced by nutrition, and growing feathers requires protein – yet another reason to ensure that turkeys have access to high quality vegetation communities that attract insects during spring and summer.

Photo © Tes Randle Jolly

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