Birdbrain: Why would a live turkey be in a cooking grill?

News-DemocratJuly 11, 2014 

Recently, my husband and I camped at Rend Lake. While riding around the campgrounds, we saw a turkey sitting in a cooking grill, fluffing its feathers with the ashes. It was the strangest thing. Was he simply giving up and preparing for Thanksgiving? (Ha ha.) -- Laverne Timmermann, of Belleville

Pardon the mixed metaphor, but its goose was far from cooked when you saw it. No birdbrain, this creature was merely indulging in a common ritual for most fowl: the dust bath.

To the unacquainted, it sounds like a contradiction in terms -- cleaning oneself with dirt. Sort of like a Peanuts strip in which Pigpen's mother would order her son to go wash in a mud puddle. No wonder they're called turkeys, right?

And, indeed, cleaning usually occurs in a more conventional manner. The practice is called preening, and birds do it by spreading a waxy substance from their uropygial gland to waterproof and align their feathers. It also keeps them flexible and attractive to possible mates, according to longtime bird-watcher Melissa Mayntz.

But like teenagers battling oily skin, some birds apparently have developed their own form of Clearasil by taking a dust bath, which is also called sanding. According to Mayntz, hundreds of bird species have been seen dusting, including (most frequently) sparrows, ring-necked pheasants -- and wild turkeys.

As you might expect, dust baths occur most frequently in arid regions and during the summer when there may be less water for bathing. What happens is the bird spreads dust over itself and then works it into its feathers to absorb excess oil and prevent them from becoming greasy and matted.

The oil-soaked dust is then shed easily to keep the plumage clean and flexible. Dry skin and other debris also are removed, and regular dusting helps kill lice, mites and other parasites. Hmm, on second thought, maybe human spas should think of adding them.

For more details, see http://birding.about.com/od/birdbehavior/a/Bird-Dust-Bathing.htm

Well, doggies: In our recent throwback Thursday feature on actor Buddy Ebsen, we neglected to mention that a suit he wore on "Barnaby Jones" is currently on display in the Belleville bicentennial exhibition at the Schmidt Art Center on the campus of Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville. See it and a script donated by his widow, Dorothy, now through Aug. 14 -- and don't miss picking up a really glitzy exhibition catalog as a keepsake. It's all free.

The reel deal?: When Denise Knight recently asked me for a movie about an abused girl with Natasha Richardson playing an Aunt Ruthie, I suggested "Nell" with Jodie Foster even though it didn't match Knight's description exactly.

Reader Katie Geries, however, has another suggestion: the Emmy-winning "Bastard out of Carolina," based on Dorothy Allison's 1992 semi-autobiographical novel. Jena Malone stars as a poor, physically abused girl born out of wedlock to Anney (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Richardson does not appear in this flick, but the cast does include Glenne Headly as Aunt Ruth.

Seems like old times: One of the most frequent -- and most popular -- types of questions I receive concerns the comings and goings of local TV and radio personalities.

So, for longtime viewers of KMOV-TV, allow me to plug the station's 60th anniversary show that's set for 6:30 p.m. Monday. Instead of the usual "Entertainment Tonight," etc., you'll be treated to a 90-minute special on the history of the station and updates on such old favorites as Tim Van Galder, Steve Schiff and, of course, Trish Brown.

As promised: If you've parked or walked in downtown Belleville recently, you've likely noticed the new bright orange stickers informing drivers when parking meters have to be fed.

City officials promised me last month the stickers would be coming soon and they delivered.

Now the bad news: A few years ago former Treasurer Jerry Turner said the meter law wouldn't be enforced until 9 a.m. According to the new stickers, you can get a ticket for an unfed meter anytime between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except holidays.

Odd signage: Speaking of parking, Michael Hagberg recently thought it strange that No Parking signs were placed on a few Belleville meters on South High Street.

In case you were wondering, Hagberg found that the signs are placed during major downtown events that close Illinois 159 to help trucks negotiate the narrower High Street detour.

Addressing a question: In his original advertisement in 1924, Noah Bloomer listed the address of his new West End Rex Theatre as 1313 W. Main St. From 1929 on, the city directory had it at 1317. I hope my recent column didn't cause any confusion to old-timers.

Today's trivia

Who were King Henry VIII's first in-laws?

Answer to Thursday's trivia: In Greek mythology, Epeius was a soldier during the Trojan War who had the reputation in some circles of being a huge coward. But he more than made up for it when he built the Trojan horse that carried him and 29 other Greeks into the city of Troy, which they promptly destroyed.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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