Sunday, November 10, 2013
Turkeys I Have Known
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 were the turkeys, pecking at the spilled seed under the bird feeder. They usually arrive in groups of females (hens, picture left) or males (toms, pictures above and below) but not in a mixed group. The only times we'll see them together is 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 to attract the hens' attention. I thought they only did that in the spring. Then, lo and behold, one year I saw the toms in full courtship dress during Thanksgiving week. After watching them for several years, I've discovered the toms display themselves any time they see hens. Always ready. :) 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 the tom's beard, what my husband calls his "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 cluck, cackle and squawk. But the toms also gobble, a rapid "gobble-gobble-gobble", which is why they're called gobblers. If you have a group of toms, when one gobbles, they all gobble. Group gobbling. :)
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.
I do like the turkeys. Gobble, gobble.
Thank you all,
Top two pictures from Wikipedia, "chest hair" by my husband