Sep 6, 2017 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, August 2017

Ask Birdsquatch: Dust-Up Mystery

If you find a patch of dusty earth strewn with turkey feathers, does it signal the demise of a bird, or something else?
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Dear Birdsquatch:

I live on the edge of town with a large yard. I recently found a bare patch of earth in the yard along the woodland edge. My yard is chemical free, so it doesn't look perfect. In fact it's patchy and even has some mole tunnels. But this bare patch was different—there were several turkey feathers mixed into the dust. I've seen the occasional turkey in my yard, but they are very shy. Do these feathers offer clues that perhaps a predator killed a turkey here?

—Kenny K., Okemah, OK

Dear Kenny,

You are most observant, but your crime-scene sleuthing has yielded the wrong conclusion. We often assume violence when we see several loose feathers from a wild bird. And often we are correct in such hypotheses; however, I believe your "several turkey feathers mixed into the dust" indicates something much more benign. Turkeys, grouse, quail, and even some songbirds, such as sparrows and thrashers, prefer to use loose soil or dust to help control feather pests such as mites and lice. They will take any opportunity during the warm weather months to flop and flap around in a dusty spot—and even may scratch it out themselves to create a bathing spot. I think your turkeys have scratched out a nice dust bath site in that bare patch of ground and the feathers they left behind were naturally molted off during a vigorous session of bathing and preening.



About Howard Youth

Howard Youth is a freelance natural history writer and Bird Watcher's Digest field editor. He is the author of two BWD backyard booklets: Enjoying Cardinals More and Enjoying Squirrels More (or Less!)

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