Some sources use the term “dusting”, but we have stuck with “dust bath” right or wrong.
Turkeys- be they wild, broad breasted or heritage dust their feathers every day if possible. Some web sites say the reason birds dust is to remove mites and bird lice while other sites insist birds dust bathe to prevent their feathers from being saturated with excess preening oil, and to remove dry flakes of skin.
You cannot help but chuckle when they shake out an enormous cloud of dirt!.
Whatever the reason, (I lean towards the first explanation & will explain why)- there is an obvious enjoyment in dust bathing –perhaps the bathing could even designated an addiction and often the dusting is a social event. A tribal gathering
Often we find the birds passed out in the hot sand in what looks like a 'death sprawl' but upon inspection they open their eyes and it is evident they are just enjoying themselves!
I have been told that turkey hunters seek out the “wallows” as a sign turkeys inhabit a given set of woodlands.
Turkeys and chickens dig shallow pits (sometimes deep pits) using their dinosaur talon feet and then fluff sand, dust or fine wood ash over their bodies. The ash and dry soil is worked into the feathers and then shaken out in a dusty cloud carrying away crawling critters, skin debris and excess oil. – It is amazing how much sand and ash gets carried away in their feathers. The dusting pit grows from every day of use & I have to replenish the sand and ash.
Chicken hen making her own private dust bath
On our property, by far the favorite location for dust bathing is the burn pit where we burn fallen branches and palm fronds, but any dry location is acceptable.
Often the bathing is done in the garden, where soil and sand is easy to dig into and the tall tomato and corn plants provides easy shelter in the event of a raptor warning
Here in Florida as the hurricane season approaches (also known as “Summer” elsewhere) I will make efforts to keep the burn pit dry as the afternoon storms roll in. However eventually sandy soil becomes saturated and the turkeys have to move to higher ground (front or back of the house)
Nesting hens or birds that have been penned up to safeguard the baby turkeys are so frantic to dust bathe that my guess is the dusting helps the hens rid themselves of bird lice and other external parasites. We always make it a point to ensure the caged hens have a dry spot in their pen or are allowed to get to the ‘dust pit’
This frantic need to rub dirt in their feathers makes me think the itch is caused by more than just excess oil.
But we are only observing and not really sure.
Turkeys are so frantic to perform the dusting that I do feel sorry for the birds penned in the commercial pens. Of course there is sympathy for the crowded conditions or the beaks burned off---but for their entire short life, they must suffer with a constant itch- till the day th…… Anyway this is simply speculation.
Poults as young as three days old will flop on the ground dust bathing with the hen & both babies and adults lounge about in the loose sand, sounding out a “Happy Chirp” sound while dusting.
Was taking some pictures of mother hen and poults dust bathing when a Coopers Hawk (I think) flew out of the pine tree. The mother called the 'Raptor' alarm and the babes scattered.
Away to the cover of low branches!
Back to the dust pit when the hawk is gone!
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