A Little More Poultry 201
Here are a few unusual pieces of information about peafowl, ducks, and turkeys for you to share next time you lack something to talk about. Who doesn’t like to talk about poultry?
While not exactly suited to most suburban backyards, peafowl are considered poultry and categorized into the taxonomic order Galliformes, including chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, guinea fowl, and grouse.
A unique sensory interaction occurs between males (peacocks) and females (peahens) during courtship. For many years, it was thought that peahens were sexually attracted to males solely by sight during courtship when the males unfurled and fanned out their massive, long trains of colorful tail feathers. However, further research found something even more remarkable: While both sexes have feather crests on top of the head, the exact purpose was unknown to ornithologists for many years. They considered the main purpose to be a visual attractant. Close monitoring led to the discovery that when males fan out their tail feathers in courtship, they shake them approximately 26 times per second, causing the customary, loud, rustling sound called train rattling. Close observation revealed that even if a peahen could not see a male and only heard him, her feather crest (which is attached to numerous neuro-receptors) responded and vibrated at the frequency of 26 times per second, in synchronization with the male’s train rattling.
Some Peacocks are Liars
During mating, male peafowl let out a loud copulatory shriek or call. This call seems to be very attractive to the females. For whatever reason, peahens tend to have a liking for males who are sexually active. Some males are quite clever … they fake this sound even when not mating and attract more females this way.
Peahens Get the Final Say
Peafowl are a lekking bird species, meaning the female has the final say if she wants to mate with a particular male. If she is not interested, no mating takes place. Sorry, not today, dear…
What Terms are Used for a Flock of Peafowl?
Flocks of peafowl are sometimes also called a muster, an ostentation, or a party, while a family unit is known as a bevy.
Now, about Ducks and Waterfowl…
Can Waterfowl Vomit?
This has been discussed in both scientific circles as well as industry groups for years. Google it, and you will find official and knowledgeable-sounding answers that often contradict each other. Information supplied by foie gras industry groups states that ducks have thick, tough esophageal tracts with no gag reflex, in defense of the claims that force-feeding into the crop thru long metal or plastic tubes hurts the ducks.
While I am not in any way, shape, or form going to get into this lengthy debate in this article, there are numerous observations recorded in scientific writings and journals within the last 50 or 60 years that state waterfowl definitely do have a gag and emetic reflex, and have been observed vomiting on occasion. Many years ago, a scientific group in the European Union concluded that most birds’ oropharyngeal regions (including domestic waterfowl) are indeed quite sensitive, and most birds have a gag or gag emetic (vomiting) reflex. Most information is spotty on this topic, but it appears most vomiting is restricted to contents of the crop from over-eating, consuming something not digestible or agreeable to the bird, or ingesting something toxic.
Why Don’t Male Ducks Quack?
As anyone who has been around ducks can tell you, females are the noisy ones in the group, while most males emit a softer, whistling type of call. What anatomical differences in the syrinx, or sound-producing regions of the airways, in most species of ducks, account for this?
The syrinx, or voice-producing section of a bird’s respiratory tract, is at the region where the trachea branches out into the bronchial passages. The structure of the syrinx varies greatly between species of birds and often between sexes in a species.
In both domestic male ducks, or drakes, as well as wild mallard drakes, there is a large, bulbous structure on the left side of the syrinx, called a bullus syringealis. While this same part exists in females, it is not the large, pronounced bulb found in males. Sitting in an area called the pessulus, where the trachea branches out into the bronchial passages, this enlarged bullus syringealis in the male is filled with much more fat and connective tissue, which tends to absorb much of the sound. Also, the pessulus in both sexes of ducks is ossified, to a certain extent, meaning that the soft tissue is covered by a very thin layer of bony tissue, making a tympanum that influences the sounds the different sexes make. The pessulus and tympanum of the male are thick, which reduces the amount of air emitted for sound and the tissue vibrations, which has a muting effect. In the female duck, these tissues tend to be thinner, allowing more air to be expelled and allowing for greatly increased vibration of the syrinx, producing the very loud quacking, which the females are known for.
What is the Bright, Shiny Patch on a Duck’s Wing Called?
The bright, iridescent portion of feathers on the wing is called the speculum and is found in the secondary feathers of the wing.
Last but not least, how about that American favorite, the turkey?
As long as we are into weird facts, let’s throw in a few interesting bits of trivia about that well-loved American bird, the turkey.
What Does a Turkey Really See?
A turkey’s eyesight and visual abilities are nothing short of incredible. Besides having outstanding visual acuity, at what researchers believe to be in the range of 60/20 vision (3 times the range of normal human vision), the placement of the turkey’s eyes gives it a visual field of about 270 degrees, without even turning its head. With an extremely flexible neck, it has an added ability to turn its head almost 360 degrees to allow quick visual sweeps of its entire environment. Because the eyes are placed at the sides of the head, many researchers believe that 3D vision may be more difficult. However, it is believed that the turkey’s constant head-bobbing is used to compensate for this deficiency. Turkeys have seven different types of photoreceptors in their eyes, compared to only two in humans. This allows them to see a much broader range of colors than the human eye can normally see, including an ability to see in the ultraviolet spectrum.
Can Turkeys Hear as Acutely as They Can See?
Like most birds, turkeys have columella, which are small, rod-like bones within the middle ear, that transmit sound from the eardrum to the inner ear. Many researchers believe that the columella in the ear of the turkey speeds up sound processing about 10 times faster than the human ear can process it. Research also indicates that while humans may hear one note, a turkey can hear up to ten distinct notes within the same range.
So, do Turkeys like Music?
Research done on this topic indicated that turkeys seemed to like classical music and had a tendency to gobble or “sing” along with it.
Originally published in the June/July 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.