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Wild Turkeys and Self-Maintenance

This Turkey Tuesday is about self-maintenance – something that wild turkeys and us turkey hunters both need to do. If you’re a turkey hunter, you’re likely already starting to suffer from effects of turkey season – not eating as well, not sleeping enough, not able to focus at work, and looking a little worn down and tired – a lack of self-maintenance. But for wild turkeys, self-maintenance is something they focus on each day. Turkeys spend time each day ensuring that their feathers are serving the functions they are designed to serve, and this time spent is critical to survival and reproduction. Wild turkeys have 5-6,000 feathers arranged in tracts (called pterylae) on their bodies, and there are several kinds of feathers. Most recognize the contour feathers that form the wings, tail, and body feathers of turkeys, but there are other feathers that are more specialized. Down feathers help trap air and provide insulation, whereas the hair-like bristle feathers around the head are believed to be sensory in nature, allowing the bird to obtain information about their surroundings and the environment. Lastly, you’ll see both toms and hens spend time all year, but particularly during spring, preening themselves whereby they spread secretions from the uropygial gland across the feather surfaces. This preening ensures that feathers are aligned, flexible, and capable of providing weatherproofing – things critical to both sexes. But for toms, preening and taking care of feathers ensures that they appear healthy and attractive to the ladies – in other words, spending time each day taking care of his feathers ensures that a tom is wearing his best suit when he has the opportunity to breed.

© Tes Randle Jolly

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