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T.R.'s Tips: Turkey Biology & Behavior


Vision scientist, Dr. Jay Neitz believes that birds see in trichromatic color like humans, and that many birds actually see four colors. He also believes that some birds see ultraviolet light as a different color than any of the three primary colors of red, yellow and blue seen by humans. Birds detect ultraviolet light in low light conditions that humans can't, especially birds that are night predators.

Because turkeys are a prey species their eyes are located on the sides of their heads, giving them a wide field of vision. But, because of their wide spaced eyes, turkeys sacrifice depth perception; they see very little in front of them with both eyes at the same time. As turkeys walk, their heads move back and forth, giving them two different angles of an object, which helps them determine the distance of the object. Because of their poor depth perception, turkeys have difficulty determining the relative size of objects.


Bird's ears are also located on the sides of their heads, and because they have no outer ear with a cup to enhance the sound in one direction, they hear sounds all the way around them. Sound received by one ear but not by the other ear helps the birds determine which direction the sounds come from, but not the distance of the sound. Loud sounds generally come from closer range than quieter sounds, and cause turkeys to become alert.

This makes it clear why prey species with widely spaced eyes and ears give an alarm signal first, often try to verify the danger with both their eyes and ears, and then flee. If they don't know which direction the danger came from they need to verify the danger, and direction, before fleeing; or they may actually flee into, rather than away from danger.


Mammalian prey species (deer, elk, sheep, etc.) that have a highly developed sense of smell can determine the direction of danger by scent and wind direction. They generally flee down or crosswind, knowing they are fleeing away from danger, not toward it. Because birds have a poor sense of smell they need to rely heavily on both their eyes and ears to determine the direction of danger before they flee from it.


Turkeys leave a variety of signs as indication of their presence, and their tracks are usually the most evident sign. Adult turkey tracks range from 2-3 inches in length; hens up to 2 1/8 inches and toms 2 1/4 inches and longer. Mature toms leave a wider and deeper middle toe imprint, often with the scales of the toes showing. Turkey droppings can be found under roosts, in feeding areas and along travel routes. Hen droppings are pencil sized or larger, and bulbous or spiral in shape; tom droppings are straight or "J" shaped. Piles of droppings under large trees indicate roost sites. Dropped feathers, wing scrapes in strutting areas, and the shallow depressions of dusting bowls are all evidence of turkeys use. V shaped scratches in dirt or leaf-litter is evidence of feeding turkeys.

This article is an excerpt from the Turkey Addict's Manual, by T.R. Michels.

T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher/wildlife behaviorist, and outdoor writer and speaker, who has been studying game animals for several years. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His latest books are the 2003 Revised Edition of the Whitetail Addict's Manual, the 2003 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict's Manual; and the 2003 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual. For a catalog of books and other hunting products contact:

T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors
PO Box 284
Wanamingo, MN 55983
Phone: 507-824-3296
E-mail: trmichels@yahoo.com
Website -- www.TRMichels.com


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