Sunday, November 21, 2010

Turkeys I Have Known

I'm starting a holiday tradition.

Last year, I wrote two fun posts on turkeys for Thanksgiving. I've decided to repost them every year. Part 1 is today, and the second one, Turkey Tales, will go up on Thanksgiving Day. Enjoy. Gobble, gobble.

Turkeys--I'm talking about the ones with feathers, not the non-feathered variety that plague us all every day.

I live in a New England suburb. The area is mainly houses and lawns, with an occasional patch of woods like the one on the hill behind my house. We have the usual wildlife: squirrels, chipmunks, songbirds, rabbits, deer, raccoons and the occasional fox, opossum and groundhog. Up until a few years ago, we never had wild turkeys. Once, long ago, a domestic turkey, probably an escapee from someone's yard, wandered through for a few days, and for a year or two we had ring-necked pheasants, but no wild turkeys.

One day I looked out at my back yard, and there the turkeys were, pecking at the spilled seed under the bird feeder. They usually arrive in groups of females (hens) or males (toms) but not the two together. The only time we'll see them together is in the spring, when the toms display themselves for the hens. The traditional picture of a Thanksgiving turkey with his feathers fluffed up (see picture at top) is a tom in courtship display. He'll ruffle his feathers that way in the spring to attract the hens' attention, but not in November. The hens also fan their tails, but their display is not nearly as striking.

How do you tell the sexes apart? Turkeys are all large brown birds with sharp beaks and big, spurred feet. The toms are generally larger than the hens and have bright, iridescent feathers. These distinctions are apparent in a mixed sex group, but for most of the year, the birds segregate into male or female only groups.

An undeniable difference is what my husband calls the tom's "chest hair"--a bundle of long coarse feathers that hangs loose from the tom's neck and swings as he walks. I would have called the feather bundle neckties, but chest hair works, too.

As for the noises they make, in most ways they sound like chickens. They all cackle and squawk. But the toms gobble, a rapid "gobble-gobble-gobble", which is why they're called gobblers.

I enjoy the turkeys. We call them turkels, to distinguish them from the turkey that will grace our dinner table on Thanksgiving. Watching them is still a treat. Most of the time all they do is stop for a snack at the bird feeder and a drink from the bird bath. But I do have two special stories about the turkeys that have visited my yard.

Next time: Turkey Tales.

Thank you all,
Top two pictures from Wikipedia, "chest hair" by my husband


Caroline Clemmons said...

Linda, We have wild turkeys in our area, but not in our yard. A funny story is that my mom raised turkeys to earn money for school. She said they are too stupid to live. In rain they will stand and look up and can actually drown just standing in the rain. I suppose the wild variety have more sense. LOL

catslady said...

Sounds like I have the same kind of backyard with the hill and woods up above and the same wildlife (including ferals that I care for). Normally I only see the turkeys at a bit of a distance but one year about 8 or so landed in my neighbors yard. I never realized how big they are. The most fascinating thing was when they took off for the hill across the street. I never thought they'd get up in the air but it was just splendid when they did.

Linda Banche said...

Funny story, Caroline. Turkeys can really be bird-brains. That's why we call a human idiot a turkey! But the domestic turkeys aren't bred for their intelligence. The wild ones have to be smarter to survive.

Hi catslady. Big birds have big wings, but I don't think turkeys fly far. I've seen them fly once. See my next post on Thanksgiving for a story.

♥ Sallie said...

Wild turkeys rock!