Thursday, November 24, 2011

Our Friend The Turkey (Ornicopia 10)

432. Which bird in the United States has the largest tail?   

Many birds have extremely long tail feathers, both in proportion to their bodies and in actual length.  The ring-necked pheasant, brought to American from Europe and naturalized, has the longest tail feathers.  Its relative, the golden pheasant, often raised by pheasant fanciers, has an even longer tail.  Of the native birds, the wild turkey has the longest tail feathers while the scissor-tailed flycatcher has the longest in relation to its body length. In all these instances, it is the male bird of the species that shows the extreme length of the retrices.

435.   How do birds with extremely long tails such as the pheasant or very broad tails like those of the turkey control them?   

Among the multitude of skin muscles of a bird are many that control the tail making instantaneous work of extreme adjustment whether tilting, fanning or contraction.

365.   Is it true that some birds produce musical sounds with their wing feathers?  

Goldeneye ducks are often called whistlers by hunters because of the whistling sounds produced by their wing feathers as they fly.  Similar sounds are produced by the wing feathers of other birds, among them mourning doves, as they fly.

Many birds produce sounds deliberately with their wing feather.  Among such birds are the ruffled grouse, which makes booming sounds, turkeys that make clicking sounds, and woodcock, which, with wing feathers having special development, plunge downward through the night, causing the air to whistle through them.

366.  Does the sound made by the wing feathers serve any purpose?   

The sounds produced by the wing feathers of grouse, turkeys and woodcock all play a part in courtship activities.

NOTEThis post is dedicated to my mother, Joan Brown Roberts, who really loved the wild turkeys who lived in her meadow in Tuxedo Park, New York and made us love and appreciate them also.  Here's one (link).

From:  1001 Questions Answered About Birds by Allan D. Cruickshank and Helen G. Cruickshank (Toronto, General Publishing Company, 1958)


  1. Thanks for this! I always wondered about those tails, and I still wonder how they survive in the woods, walking around as if they own the place. We had a few running around in our back yard recently . . .
    There was a short piece in the New Yorker comparing turkeys to eagles, favoring the turkey. Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird.

  2. Curtis,

    For some weird reason this takes me right back to that phase of the Paleolithic when all it seemed right to do was...shake a tail feather.

    (That must have been back around the time of The First Thanksgiving.)

  3. Nin: Around here, they're very much "large and in charge" in the woods. Once, we saw one of our (now indoor) feral cats, Honey, try to set upon one of the chicks, who was parading en famille with her mother and the rest of the brood. Honey, who's a dear (but a cat nonetheless), survived, shaken but ok. The mother turkey's defense was highly impressive. Tom: Ain't nothing like Shotgun and there never will be. So cheering on a darkening day up here. Up visiting some friends (the family of one of Jane's former Tuxedo classmates) who kindly invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them, the heat seems not to be working in our house. And the grocery store left the cheese out of Caroline's sandwich (which was essentially a cheese sandwich). Happier days are on the horizon, I'm sure. If she's just let me make her a drink, they'd be arriving sooner, not later, however. Curtis