Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dust Baths and Solitary Bees

Wild Turkeys love dust baths and will sometimes create a sizable wallow as they dust their feathers. During periods of frequent rainfall, it becomes hard to find any soil dry enough to create dust. At the upper end of this old erosion gully is a steep area with good exposure to sunlight. This is one of the first places to dry out and the turkeys have scraped at the side of the cut until they have created a dusty shelf on which to bathe.
Turkeys aren’t the only animals that are attracted to an open patch of soil. Some native bees excavate brood tunnels in areas of bare soil. Within these tunnels are individual chambers, each containing an egg and a supply of food.

This bee is searching for the entrance to its burrow. The turkeys were scared off at my approach so the surface of the soil had just been recently disturbed. Bees locate their burrow entrance by referencing nearby landmarks and soil features. I was wondering if the bee would be able to find its nest after the turkeys rearranged the landscape.

Finally, the bee found what it was looking for. I imagine it’s going to unload pollen into one of the brood chambers. Native bees are very effective pollinators, but many species specialize in collecting pollen from a narrow range of plants. I’ll see little bees similar to this, visiting flowers all summer long.

I left my hand print in the dust to give scale to this bare spot. Many land managers are conditioned to see bare ground as a sign of poor management efforts. That can be true when it’s the site of accelerated erosion that allows soil particles to leave the site, but bare ground can also be a specialized habitat that adds value to a diverse ecosystem. Turkeys rarely use the same dusting site for more than a few months, so spots like this are short lived and are reclaimed by vegetation when the turkey disturbance ends. The turkeys may disrupt the bee nesting activities this spring, but this will be an excellent bee nesting area for several years to come.


  1. Thank you for our daily science class. :)

  2. Hi Steve...did you see the post I did a over a week ago on the Turkeys in my yard, with one taking a dust bath?? ..comical!!
    If I was a bee I don't think I would want a turkey disturbing my home ..those babies are big!!

  3. Hi, grammie g. Yes, I saw your dusting turkey and think we must have about the same number of moles. At least my turkeys don't bath in the yard.