It’s time to talk Turkey – Wild Turkey that is; not the domesticated version that has come to symbolize one of our country’s biggest holidays, but the original version that is known as much for its wily, wary personality as the big white ones are known for their lack of sense.
These are not ‘our’ flock, but this is what they look like when they run off into the woods; a mixed flock of females and young birds.
A couple days ago we were coming home and just before we turned the corner to come up our road we encountered the flock of 16 wild turkeys (females and this year’s young) milling around between our field and the forest on the other side of the road. They skittered into the woods as we approached, but we know that’s just a temporary retreat. This flock, which grew by 10 over the spring and summer months has decided that the sunflower seeds and mixed cracked corn and seed mix we put out every day at our feeders is just what they like.
A very unusual look at a turkey in flight. Notice the size of the wings in proportion to the body – not designed for sustained flight.
In the beginning it was exciting to watch the big birds strut into the yard, but it has become too much of a good thing and the flock has taken up residence nearby. Each morning, we watch them fly down from their nightly roosting spots in our tall red pines. Flying is really not their thing, if they can help it. When coming down from the trees, they glide on outstretched wings which span four feet.
When really threatened they can get airborne, but they are big, bulky birds, weighing up to 18 pounds and bottom heavy. More often than not they will take off running on their long, scaly legs, with skinny neck and tiny head leading the way. The writer Verlyn Klinkenborg perfectly described their heads as, “no larger than an afterthought.”
Here the feathers are highlighted by the sun; shimmering irridesence.
The feathers on these birds are really beautiful when the sun strikes them just so and you can see iridescent greens, bronze and purples on top of the russet brown, but their featherless head takes them out of the truly beautiful category. They leave feathers throughout the yard and soon we will have enough to make a large bouquet.
The Wild Turkey’s reputation as a wily bird that easily eludes hunters is well earned. We notice that they are very alert and wary, especially when we pass by the windows. On the other hand, as they have become more attached to the free meals under our birdfeeders, they do not run away quite as far or fast as they did a couple months ago when we go out to fill the feeders.
The classic Tom Turkey in full display for the female.
There are a group of four big Tom turkeys that come by when the ‘girls’ and ‘young’uns’ are not around. They each have a strange, dangling ‘tail’ of feathers on their chest and a red wattle on their throats. These are the turkeys I do not want to antagonize. Wild turkeys have been known to become aggressive towards people when they become too acclimated to them. They will chase both people and pets and can use their large toes, with scimitar like claws to attack their enemies, which may include us. There is a hilarious video (Terrible Tom the wild turkey causes reporter to lose her head) on YouTube of a reporter who was terrorized by a lone turkey. I laugh just thinking about it, but I haven’t been in that position and it probably wouldn’t be so funny if I was being chased.
It will be interesting to see if these ‘gobblers’ remain regulars at the feeders throughout the winter months, or whether they become food for local coyotes. I think they would be formidable adversaries for foxes or great horned owls. Come next spring, they may become prey for some hungry humans.
By Kate Crowley