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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Feather puddle of a wild turkey

I am not sure where I first heard the term "feather puddle" to refer to the pile of feathers left behind after a bird has been killed and plucked. It may have been Elbroch's book on bird tracks and sign. I love the term and would gladly give credit where credit is due. On Friday, I found a feather puddle that my students correctly identified as an American robin. I commented that all the feathers had been torn out, none were sheared. I have been told this indicates a bird of prey did the deed rather than a mammal.

Yesterday I headed out to listen for woodcock. On my way, I encountered a small pile of turkey tail feathers.
Wild turkey feather puddle (Seneca Falls, NY 4/11)
My first thought was that perhaps two male (tom) turkeys had been battling it out as we are at the start of the breeding season. But there seemed to be too many feathers for that but too few for a kill. I only had to walk another 20 yards to find the rest of the feathers. I have never seen a feather puddle this large before. It can almost qualify as a feather pond :) We are now about 200 yards from our back door.

Large feather puddle from wild turkey (Seneca Falls, NY 4/11)
As you can see, the feathers are spread out over some distance. The spot at top center is where the majority of the work was done by the predator. As is typical with feather puddles, there was no carcass. In fact, there was no flesh at all.

So we know the identity of the victim. But whodunit? We have a few clues. Well, the best I can say is a mammal. It would take one heck of a big bird to kill a turkey and although we do have eagles in the area, the are not really likely to kill a turkey. In addition, some of the feathers show signs of having been sheared off rather than just plucked. That action happens when a mammal like a fox or coyote grabs the feathers with its cheek teeth and yanks. Look in the photo below for the difference between feathers that have been pulled out and have a complete vane and those that have been cut and show a nice flat end.
Wild turkey killed by a mammal (Seneca Falls, NY 4/11)

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