She saw me but she didn’t care. Like much of the forest’s wildlife, this urban bird had apparently decided I was no big threat. Among the dangers she confronts as a large visible fowl, in the city hunting is not one of them. So she could afford to relax a little. From the excellent vantage point of her log, she allowed me to watch her daily grooming ritual – the preen.
First she made a good scan of the surroundings. Despite the turkey jokes, Wild turkeys are very smart, wary animals and can blend into the underbrush instantly when danger threatens. Though she appears to be in deep woods, we were actually quite close to the LNC nature play area, the trail, and a busy neighborhood road. However, the area around her was fairly open, reducing the chances of a predator sneaking up.
Once she began to fluff, I knew what was coming. Living as I do with a flock of free-range parrots, preening is a familiar activity, often performed while sitting on my shoulder. But a turkey preen – such a magnificence of feathers!
The preening ritual is very important to a bird’s survival. Feathers must be kept in prime condition for flight, to shed water, and to preserve warmth in winter. Dirt and parasites are removed, as well as the sheaths surrounding pin feathers. Barbules that have come undone are re-zipped.
In the pic above, she’s getting preen oil from the uropygial gland above her tail, and spreading it over her feathers as waterproofing. Most of her varied feather types are on display – though tom turkeys are considered the “pretty” ones, I think she’s quite a lovely sight.
Birds can reach almost all parts of their bodies with their beaks, but of course not their heads and necks. This is where “allopreening” is useful – having your mate or flock member do that area you can’t get to. It’s a very affectionate bonding behavior, particularly in social species like parrots, or those that cooperate on parenting. Since Wild Turkeys don’t really form pair bonds or raise young together, they don’t allopreen.
She gave herself a good shake and a final fluff, before stepping off the log and vanishing into the undergrowth.
In other turkey news, I have seen very little of the many chicks hatched in spring. It’s unlikely a great number survived – that’s why turkeys lay so many eggs. But a few weeks ago I got to see one youngster flap up into a tree – thereby educating me that young turkeys can fly very well, despite their seeming lack of flight feathers.
I hope it’s a survivor.