Wild Turkey

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Gary R. Graves, Ph.D.

Dr. Gary Graves had an early childhood fascination with birds that eventually led him to his role as curator of birds at the National Museum of Natural History.

Photo by Don Hurlburt, Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Gary Graves is a research zoologist and curator of birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History where his research focuses on the ecology, biogeography, and evolution of birds. His early childhood fascination with birds led to graduate studies at Louisiana State University and Florida State University: "I am unapologetically curious about natural history and the ways that natural history observations catalyze important ecological and evolutionary discoveries." His dissertation work focused on speciation of birds in the Andes Mountains of Peru. He has also conducted fieldwork in Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Polynesia, Canada, and in more than half the states in the USA. His current research efforts are split between the analysis of complex data sets based on the collective resources of the World's great museums and conducting field research in Jamaica, the great forests of the eastern USA, and in the Sonoran Desert.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) puffed out and strutting
Courtesy of Rober Burton, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, public domain


About Gallinaceous Birds (Order Galliformes): Defense

Gallinaceous birds (also known as game birds) spend the majority of their time on the ground, using their feet to scratch for seeds, fruit, and insects. Although their plumage tends to be mottled brown, providing camouflage, they are an attractive meal for terrestrial predators like raccoons and foxes. Their best defenses are their enlarged flight muscles, giving them the ability to take off in a hurry. Those same enlarged muscles are what make chicken breast a substantial meal for humans. But gallinaceous birds reserve flight for real emergencies, usually first running from danger on their strong legs. If running away is not enough, they burst off the ground in nearly vertical flight. When threatened, a gallinaceous bird communicates it with body language. Picture the puffed out chest and raised head of an angry chicken.

Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at nest
Courtesy of USFWS Pacific Southwest Region/Flickr, public domain


About Birds (Class Aves): Reproduction

Many male birds use brightly colored feathers to show off to females during the breeding season. Most males set up territories containing important resources (food, nesting materials), and try to attract females while keeping males out. Courtship can be an elaborate affair, with displays by the male and sometimes by females, depending on the species. After mating, all birds lay eggs. As the egg develops, the yolk gets covered with layers of egg-white (to feed the embryo), shell (for protection), and pigment (for color). Eggs must stay at the right temperature for development. Most birds incubate their eggs by sitting on them so that they touch a warm, bare spot of skin on the parent (brood patch). Parental care of hatchlings tends to be intensive, with one or both parents feeding the young. Hatchling birds have a lot to learn (the parents' song, the location of feeding areas, migration routes).