Physics Photo of the Week

April 18, 2014

Inflated Egos

We woke up last Sunday morning to a stunning view of these three toms strutting around in our garden showing off for the nearby hens.  Click on the image for a larger view.

The physics displayed in this photo of wildlife is the physiology of the magnificent display.  It consists of an arousal - constricting of the skin at the base of the feathers to puff out the feathers - similar to the hair bristling on mammals when threatened.  Return blood vessels are also constricted to increase blood pressure to the face.  The close-up below shows the
waddles in front of the neck of one of the birds apparently inflated with an increased blood supply.  The displays of these toms may appear threatening, but they were far from aggressive.  They merely were strolling slowly around the yard - perhaps admiring the appearance of each other.  They are most likely siblings following a typical social order of dominance.  The less dominant males are more successful at breeding by hanging around the dominant male in the group.

Turkeys can be aggressive - especially to predators that threaten them.  see the spurs on the back of the legs on the close-up below
on the left.

A remarkable fact about wild turkeys is their recovery - having been almost eliminated from North America at the beginning of the 20th century from over-hunting and as a food source for Americans.   The population recovery is most likely due to hunting regulations, conservation efforts at reducing the harmful DDT insecticides, abandonment of farmland, improved forest management (controlled burns and sustainable logging), and trapping and moving wild specimens to depleted regions.  Re-introduction of penned-up birds was not successful.  Being omnivores, wild turkeys are very successful at finding food both in the forest and open places (as well as our garden...).

A wild turkey made his appearance in an earlier Physics Photo (April 9, 2009) featuring the iridescence of the feathers. 

Physics Photo of the Week is published weekly during the academic year on Fridays by the Warren Wilson College Physics Department. These photos feature interesting phenomena in the world around us.  Students, faculty, and others are invited to submit digital (or film) photographs for publication and explanation. Atmospheric phenomena are especially welcome. Please send any photos to

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