Sunday, March 30, 2014

Iridescent Wild Turkeys

The Wild Turkeys have been tromping through the woods and fields and even coming up to the bird feeders in recent days. Usually when I see them the sky is overcast and so I don't get the benefit of their full iridescent splendor, but yesterday the sun came out and really lit up the birds. These fantastic creatures rarely get the credit they deserve for being one of our most ornate and colorful native species. 
Now for a change,  just feast your eyes on Turkey
Coming up the snowy  path - a very colorful guy indeed
The remarkable iridescent body feathers of the male Wild Turkey
The rainbow of colors that we see when the sun hits the birds are caused by light refracting off of the feathers. This iridescence has nothing to do with the actual pigment of the feathers and so if you find a turkey feather on the ground, you're not likely to see much color. That is not to say that Turkey feathers are devoid of pigment - most are a handsome shade of brown.
The hen turkey is also quite colorful in the sun
This week the males were not yet in full display mode - they'd only puff up for a brief moment
There we go - but it didn't last long
Much of the color disappeared whenever the sun retreated behind a cloud, 
The Turkey's wing and tail feathers are not iridescent, but they are not dull either; they are boldly striped. The tail feathers are ruddy-brown with thin black bars. The primary wing feathers are dark brown and barred with white, while the secondary wing feathers are also barred, but they are more ruddy-brown like the tail. Taken together these contrasting patterns are quite dramatic and when the male bird ruffles up his gleaming body feathers - the whole effect is quite breathtaking. I didn't even touch on the male's blue face or his red crown and neck, but that what pictures are for.

Male and female Wild Turkeys standing together
Is someone taking your picture?
Run away!
Of course the Turkeys weren't the only iridescent birds around, the blackbirds have been back for over a week, and of the species that frequent our area the Common Grackle is the shiniest.
An adult male Common Grackle comes in for a landing on the roof of a bird feeder
Another spectacular iridescent native bird - note the white eye
In early spring the Grackles travel in mixed flocks with Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds
These early spring flocks are overwhelmingly comprised of male birds

Grackles will dominate our bird feeders - but only for a short time - soon enough they'll be off to the breeding grounds

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