Humans practice everyday grooming rituals to look our best and stay healthy — showering, shaving, brushing teeth, styling hair, using makeup and wearing fashionable duds or dress. Mine mother referred to as it primping.

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In the wild turkey world, to organize is a arsenal of habits called preening. They incorporate dusting, sunning, anting, feather preening and stretching. These are especially critical to a turkey’s health and survival. Lock also an essential to maintaining a gobbler’s stunning appearance, which fills a turkey hunter’s dreams.

Preening behaviors comprise a far-ranging part of the turkey’s day-to-day routine, 2nd in time just to feeding. Many folks who have actually observed turkeys understand their basic routine. From the time a turkey’s feet touch the ground at flydown, it walks, talks, feeds, grooms, competes for dominance, mates, waters and also loafs till it lifts toward a roost tree at day’s end.

Here’s an ext detail top top a turkey’s everyday grooming rituals and also tips on exactly how to apply them to a searching strategy.



Dust bathing is a typical bird behavior, specifically with birds that spend most of your time top top the ground, such as turkeys. The a flock task that wake up throughout the day and also between periods of feeding. Dusting have the right to be comical to watch, together the bird crouches or lies on its side and also flaps its wings wildly, efficiently coating its body in dirt. Turkeys could dust in ~ a favored point out repeatedly, which create a bowl-like depression. Dusting precedes sunning and also preening. Barely the end of the shell, poults instinctively start dusting at around 2 come 4 job old.

As through humans and their shower habits, some turkeys could dust-bathe quickly, but others leisurely flop and also toss dust for longer periods, seeming come take much enjoyment in the exercise. I saw a young hen fly under from the roost, floor in a food plot and also immediately begin dusting. The hen remained in the dust key for almost 30 minutes and also appeared to doze off numerous times. The boss hen ultimately approached and, with several sharp head pecks, ousted the hen from her dusty reverie.


Dusting helps keep plumage in a fluffy problem by removing the buildup of material on feathers, such together old secretions from the preen gland (uropygial gland). Much more on the later. Fine dust additionally can clog tiny breathing pores ~ above the bodies of lice and other helminth that chew on feathers and suck blood.

Turkeys don’t always shake upon climbing from a dust bath. I was when reminded of the forever dirty Peanuts character Pig Pen while photographing a hen dusting. She stood after ~ a prolonged session yet didn’t shake. Instead, she plucked clover in a little area because that a half-hour and then go the sheet of a lengthy field and also out of sight, a tiny dust cloud billowing behind each step.


Sunning is vital step in a turkey’s everyday grooming regimen. The usually adheres to a dust bath and precedes feather preening. SuNning is less generally observed and might it is in confusing come those unfamiliar through turkey behavior. At very first glance, a prostrate turkey soaking increase the sunlight can appear sick or wounded. The bird typically lies on one side with the upward wing and leg extended and exposed to straight sunlight. For older readers, visualize a famed Mae West float pose. Other birds could simply crouch on the ground.

The habits serves several purposes: absorbing heat because that regulating body temperature, maintain feather health and also dislodging feather parasites. One theory suggests that parasites might be eliminated or compelled to relocate away indigenous inaccessible components of the body to more accessible areas where they can be eliminated through feather preening. Sunlight likewise can kill feather-degrading bacteria. Sunning renders oil native the preen gland an ext liquid and also easier to spread over the feathers.

Turkeys likewise use sunshine to remove moisture. Birds normally congregate in open locations away indigenous dripping tree after a rainy period. This likewise exposes them to sunlight and also expedites the dry process. You might see birds with their wing slightly open up to facilitate drying. Severe storms can damage feathers or punch them the end of place. Expanded feather preening is regularly necessary. A wet, windblown turkey is in ~ a disadvantage to fly, making it much more vulnerable to predators.



American ornithologist john James Audubon gave the faster known summary of this peculiar behavior in 1831. He explained young turkeys as “wallowing” in anthills. Anting appears to it is in widespread and common yet isn’t readily observed because it’s suspect the bird is dusting. Consequently, most present research top top the actions is perform in laboratories. Much more than 200 species of birds worldwide have to be observed anting. Many are songbirds. However, ground-dwelling game birds such together turkeys and also northern bobwhite quail also engage in anting.

Anting wake up in 2 ways: energetic and passive. Blue jays, for example, use ants actively by capturing, crushing and also rubbing lock on your skin or feathers. Turkeys passively ant. The bird crouches atop an ant mound and also might obstacle its wings and also tail top top it, permitting the disturbed ants come crawl over its body.

What is the role of anting? biologist have questioned several theories for years. Every is based upon the fact that just 24 types of ants are supplied in anting. Every contain high levels of formic acid. Some indicate the anting process distributes formic acid, i beg your pardon is thought to help inhibit parasites such as feather mites and biting lice. A widely organized theory holds that birds use ants to soothe irritated skin. Anting is more common in late summer and also early fall, the period of hefty feather molting, once skin is irritated during rapid feather replacement. Birds smear ants on their skin and also feathers where new feathers room growing. Formic acid feels warm to the touch and also penetrates the skin easily. In theory, the acid could soothe the bird’s excited skin.



Preening is exactly how a bird grooms its feathers to preserve them in optimal condition. Most birds feather preen many times day-to-day to remove dirt, dust and also parasites and align each feather in the best position loved one to surrounding feathers and body shape. As mentioned, dusting, sunning and also anting are component of the in its entirety preening process. Think the them as pretreatments that prepare the feathers because that preening.

Between 5,000 and also 6,000 feathers cover a turkey’s body and also grow in patterns called feather tracts, or pterylae. The tail has actually an mean of 18 long quill feathers. Wings have 10 primary feathers and 18 or 19 second feathers. Turkey feathers have actually eight shapes that aid in body covering, insulation, waterproofing, flight, display, protection and recognition. No wonder they invest so much time preening.

Feather preening has two functions: First, it guarantee the trust of the layer of edge feathers, which must be properly aligned, v all interlocking barbules in place. Also, it distributes uropygial (preen) gland secretions onto the skin and feathers.

What is the uropygial gland? (See the lead photo.) situated at the basic of the tail, the secretes an oily, waxy problem made of primarily fatty acids that helps save feathers flexible and also waterproof. Birds spread out the oil using their bill to every feather till they are evenly coated.

Preening actions serve an important roles because that turkeys:

- feathers moisturized v preen oil room strong, versatile and far better able to withstand the anxiety of flight.

- feathers aligned for optimum waterproofing and also insulation safeguard the bird against adverse conditions, such as excessive temperatures and soaking.

- feathers aligned into their most aerodynamic shape make for an ext efficient flight, therefore less energy is required.

- Feather parasite and body lice removed protects feathers and also lessens an illness outbreaks in the i m crying or nest.

- throughout feather molting and also regrowth, preening clears tough sheaths from newly molted feathers and also helps placed them in the proper position an ext quickly.

- Preening create a healthier, more attractive appearance because that attracting a mate.



Leg and also wing stretching shows up mainly come loosen and flex muscle in preparation for flight. However, extending is likewise observed as component of the preening process. This stretching behavior likely help provide room between each feather therefore each have the right to be stroked and also groomed effectively. Preening calls for a bird come assume miscellaneous positions. Stretching and feather fluffing helps align every the feathers after a section has been preened.



When apricot gather and breed, spring turkey hunting have the right to be tough. The beforehand morning gobbling, cutting and also yelping free-for-all winds down, and also you weren’t close to being in the game. The flock has gathered, gone quiet and moved on. It’s tempting to offer up and also head come camp. Odds are, though, the turkeys you’re hunting haven’t traveled far. Lock simply complying with a pattern of daily rituals: feeding, calling, breeding, preening and also loafing through the day. Usage a turkey’s daily rituals to setup a hunt strategy, particularly when gobblers space henned up. It can be a long, challenging hunt, but those are typically the many memorable.

During his years as head turkey overview at Alabama’s renowned White Oak Plantation, Bo Pitman didn’t provide up when confronted with such scenarios. Legend for his successes top top all-day hunts, Pitman relished the challenge to out-turkey a turkey, also if the took until roost time. A authorize posted top top the lodge’s liar’s porch wall surface greeted showing up hunters. A practiced three-word testimony to his searching prowess review simply, “Bo knows turkeys.”

Pitman is an old-school turkey hunter; an expert on turkey behavior, reading sign and, together he call it, searching on turkey time. Year of spending all day in the woods observing turkeys, listening and reading sign provided him the to trust to remain with a flock till he and also his hunter could set up in the flock’s heat of travel. Pitman knew from carefully flanking turkey flocks that they are vocal together they travel and also feed, pausing intermittently come preen, dust, sun and also loaf. He likewise knew preening actions take up a the majority of a flock’s time.

Those were great times because that Pitman and also his hunter to make a move and also attempt a setup in the birds’ heat of travel. Pitman’s strategy required focused watching and listening to store track that the flock, linked with butt-numbing patience and also spare calling, greatly soft feeding and also contentment sounds, and leaf scratching. Hunts could last every day, requiring multiple stealth moves and also setups — the turkey searching version of 3D chess. Usually, Pitman ultimately outmaneuvered the turkeys and guided his hunter to the ideal place in ~ the specific time for a face-to-face through an elusive southern gobbler — the can be fried reward because that dogged perseverance.

During the incubation period, Pitman knew the hens take brief breaks away from their colony early and late in the day come feed, water, dust and preen. He’d scout and set up his hunter close to dust bowls close to nesting habitat, learning lonely gobblers would certainly cruise those areas searching because that hens. Again, he dubbed softly, including non-vocal sounds with confidence the hen’s everyday dusting and also preening rituals could assist bring a gobbler within range.

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Pitman frequently said the ideal turkey hunters are the ones who hunt ~ above turkey time. Translated: successful hunters space committed. They learn turkeys’ day-to-day rituals, and what the birds room doing and where they room going. They will certainly do everything it bring away to it is in there as soon as they arrive. Yeah, Bo knows turkeys.