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Pulmonic puff

You can feel it in your chest, and hear it right through the walls of a home, it is a sound hard to describe, a sound better felt or heard, a sound many people cannot even hear, a sound that sounds, well, otherworldly. This low-pitched sound is often accompanied by other showy displays such as fanning, and it is produced by an air movement in the air-sack in the chest of the wild turkey.

wild turkeyWild turkeys are relatively new to our suburban yards and now they are being seen in subdivisions, along South Saginaw Street, in downtown Grand Blanc, and beyond. Wild turkeys are native to North America and were almost once hunted to extinction but because of conservation efforts their numbers are flourishing.

These large, plump birds are magnificent and can weight up to 25 pounds with the female being somewhat smaller. They have 5,000 to 6,000 bronze-colored feathers that have rainbow of colors; their striped tail feathers are a rusty color. The male turkey's head and neck are capable of displaying "mood colors" brightening to vivid reds and blues to almost white in a matter of seconds when a hen or another tom nears. It is no wonder why Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the wild turkey a symbol of this great nation: it is beautiful, proud, and abundant. In a letter written to his daughter and dated January 26, 1784, Franklin criticizes the choice of the bald eagle and writes: "For in truth the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. He is besides, though a little vain and silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on."

Turkeys have quite a variety of songs and calls; the low-pitched sound described above is called the pulmonic puff.  The name makes sense "pul" as in pulmonary, or relating to the chest, and "monic" being a harmony of sounds.   Listen carefully and you, too, may hear the puff of the male turkey during courtship season.

Louise Dawson
on behalf of the the Naturalists at J.J. Cardinals
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Resource:  audio files of common wild turkey calls, alarms and communication >

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11/05/12  illustrations, text & fun © J.J. Cardinal's 1992-2012
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