Sunday, November 20, 2011

Turkeys I Have Known

Thanksgiving is upon us and I'm posting my turkey blogs again.

Part 1 is today, the second one, which I've renamed Turkey Tales I, will go up on Thanksgiving Day. Since I've had a lot of turkey sightings in 2011, I've added a third post, Turkey Tales II, which will go up next Sunday. Happy Thanksgiving. 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, see picture at left) 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 bundles 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 some special stories about the turkeys that have visited my yard.

Next time: Turkey Tales I.

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


Lindsay Townsend said...

Wonderful, Linda! We see pheasants where I live. I envy you your turkeys.

Kaye Manro said...

Hi Linda-- I look forward to your turkey blogs and always love your turkey pics.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and hubby too, Linda!

Linda Banche said...

Hi Lindsay, pheasants are good, too. I'll bet you have plenty of pheasant stories.

Hi Kaye, only a few days until my other turkey posts. And Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

catslady said...

I've only seen a group of turkeys once and they were in my neighbors yard. The amazing part was when they took off. It's quite impressive for their size that close.

Celia Yeary said...

Here in Central Texas, we live in a wooded area--live oaks--and there is one group of wild turkeys. They almost always stay toward the back of the housing area, about a mile from our house. We've seen them numerous times.
I hope no one shoots them, like they do our deer. Guns are not illegal out here, and during hunting season in the fall, we stay in the house if we hear gun shots. Doesn't sound right, does it? But it's not illegal.
Thanks for the story!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for that interesting post. Here in Scotland, we eat turkey at Christmas but I've never seen any walking about! We do however have an occasional visit to the garden from pheasants.

Allison said...

I was young, maybe 10 years old. Grandma lived on a farm in Indiana and raised three turkeys with the intention of having one for Thanksgiving, one for Christmas and one to share. Grandma was a generous person.

One of those birds chased me all over the barn yard and I ended up with a nice long gash in my knee. I still have the scar. I can't remember eating any turkey I enjoyed more. He was a mean bird but tasted delicious.

Linda Banche said...

Hi, catslady. Although turkeys are birds, I never really thought of them flying until I saw one flying down from a tree branch where he had roosted. BIG wings!

Hi Celia, I hope your turkeys are OK, too. Legal or not, no one should hunt anyway near a housing area.

Rosemary, we have turkey for Thanksgiving, and sometimes for Christmas, too. Turkeys are native to North America, so I'd be surprised if you saw one, unless someone has a pet. But pheasants are good, too. We have ring-necked pheasants here in the US, but they were introduced from Europe.

LOL, Allison! I would have enjoyed eating that turkey, too. Domestic fowl can be mean. I've run away from domestic geese that chased me. But the wild turkeys run away if you come near them, even the one I fed. Come back on Sunday for my post about the turkey who kept coming back to my yard.