Tag Archives: Wild Turkey

HOW COLOR IS CREATED IN BIRD FEATHERS PART 2

Turkey male fanning tale feathers feathers Kim SmithStructural Color

Have you ever wondered why sometimes you can see the brilliant red gorget (throat feathers) of the male Ruby-throated and Allen’s hummingbirds, and sometimes not at all? Or why iridescent feathers appear green, and then blue, or possibly purple, and then in the next moment look drab and dreary? I think about this when photographing birds such as grackles, buffleheads and hummingbirds. Most recently, the turkeys in our community are currently displaying their wildly varying iridescent feathers when in full courtship mode.

Bufflehead Kim Smith

Bufflehead Iridescence

Iridescent Red Gorget in Male Allen’s Hummingbird, same bird, different angles

Layering

There are two types of structural color, layering and scattering. Iridescence in bird feathers is created by layering. Bird feathers are made of a translucent protein called keratin, which is a very rugged substance. Not only are the feathers made of keratin, but keratin coats the bird’s claws, legs, and bill. Because of the structure of the feather, with its microscopic barbules, when light hits the feather it causes the wave lengths to bend, or refract. Keratin reflects short wave length colors like purples, blues, and violets. The other colors are absorbed by the underlying layer of melanin. The refraction works like a prism, splitting the light into an array of colors. As the viewing angle changes, because of the viewer’s movement or because the bird is moving, the refracted light displays a shimmering iridescence, or none at all. Beautiful color combinations are created when iridescent layers are combined with pigments present.

Turkey male iridescent feathers -2 Kim SmithIn the above photo, the male Turkey’s iridescent feathers surrounding the head make a splendid display in full sun.

These same feathers appear entirely different when back lit.

Turkey male iridescent feathers Kim Smith

Grackle Kim Smith 2016

Iridescence in Grackles

Scattering

Keratin is interspersed with tiny pockets of air of within the structure of the feather filament (called barb). Scattering is created when light hits the pockets of air, which results in specific, non-iridescent color. The color blue in feathers is almost always created in this manner. Feathers of Blue Jays, Bluebirds, and Indigo Buntings are prime examples of scattering.

Here are two graphics found online that I found very helpful in trying to visualize the difference between layering and scattering. The first shows how iridescence is produced and the second, how blue scattering is created.Struct-Color-DIA-Iridescent_Myaedit_coloracrticle-674x441Bird_Biology-Feather_structural_blue-674x450

 

STRUTTIN’ HIS STUFF!

A face only a Mother could love ~Wild Turkey male close up wattle, caruncle, snood Kim Smith 2016

Male turkey’s faces are brilliantly colored red, white, and blue and change color depending on what mood. A solid white head indicates the most excited.

Wild Turkey male Courtship display Kim Smith 2016

There were three males courting in this group, with one being the dominant Tom. To attract the females, the males were spreading their tail feathers (called strutting) and spitting. Group courtship like this usually takes place after the winter months in March and April, when they are still flocked together.

Wild Turkey male female Tom pea Courtship display Kim Smith 2016Tom and Hen Eastern Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey male female Tom pea Courtship display -2 Kim Smith 2016

Anatomy_of_turkey_headAnatomy of a Turkey Head

1) Caruncles

2) Snood

3) Wattle (dewlap)

4) Major caruncle

5) Beard

Notice the small light tan colored holes to the right of the eye in both the above photo and the top photo. That is the Tom’s ears with which he can hear quite well.

The photo below is not tack sharp so I almost didn’t post however, it demonstrates that this turkey is comparatively more excited as his face is more white and blue than the turkey in the first photo. And you can see the ear quite clearly in this photo, too.

Wild Turkey male close up wattle, ear, snood, caruncle Kim Smith 2016

Domestic turkey photo courtesy wiki.

Baby Turkey Encounter!

Turey baby poult ©Kim Smith 2014A baby turkey is called a poult.

Turkey baby poult hen ©kim Smith 2014Where was the Tom?

This little turkey family seemed so vulnerable. Although blending well with the surrounding vegetation, the hen was disabled. She was only able to half walk, half hop. Despite her injury, she kept close watch over the babies as they foraged. I was especially surprised that no Tom came charging to protect the flock, which has been my experience with past turkey encounters.

Turkey baby poults ©Kim Smith 2014

Turkey baby poult flying ©Kim Smith 2014.Turkey babies poult hen ©kim Smith 2014.Turkey Hen and Poults

Two Sisters

Two turkey hens ©Kim Smith 2013

Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)

Benjamin Franklin writes a letter to his daughter Sarah Beche  in 1784, criticizing the appearance and choice of the Bald Eagle as the national bird of the United States, presumably preferring the Wild Turkey, “…I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a Red Coat on.”

Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)

The Cherry Street Gang (of Turkeys)

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

The turkeys populating Cape Ann are descended from wild-trapped New York birds. By 1851, the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) was extirpated from Massachusetts because of widespread loss of habitat and hunting. Nine unsuccessful attempts to reestablish the birds were made between 1911 and 1967. Between 1972 and 1973, 37 birds were released in Berkshire County. The bird’s range quickly expanded, establishing populations from the western to the furthest eastern regions of Massachusetts. To read more about the Wild Turkey visit the Massachusetts Audubon Breeding Bird Atlas