I thought it was something seeing a deer and her fawn in my backyard last summer. A few days ago a flock of wild turkeys invaded and I was surprised to see how big they are, looking larger than Canadian geese in comparison to their domestic cousins. In fact, they are the second largest North American bird after the trumpeter swan. Male “Toms” can grow up to 4 feet tall and weigh over 20 pounds. Wild turkey populations have increased sharply since 1966 and it is estimated that the global breeding population of 7.8 million, has 89% occurring in the United States. 21% of all U.S. hunters (about 2.5 million of them) chase turkey, the second most sought game after deer. We can, therefore see how THASC artist Jim Mesick captures that look of “ON ALERT” in his wild turkey in his painting. As he shows us, wild turkeys live year round in open forests in 49 states (except Alaska) and parts of Mexico and Canada. Their English name of the bird may come from the early routes that they passed through while being shipped through the country of Turkey on their way to European markets.
While many of us are delighted to see these birds back in their “glory”, many consider them a big nuisance, especially if they take up residence in your back yard. Their big feet can do a lot of damage in your grass and through your flower beds. It’s not so much for the damage they may do compared to deer, but their turkey droppings can at times blanket the lawn and so as to hinder outdoor activities. Wild turkeys rummage with their flocks to eat plant matter mostly on the ground and sometimes in low trees and shrubs. They supplement their plant diet with acorns, berries, fruits, nuts and seeds. They also dig up plant bulbs in Spring if they cannot find nuts and add beetles and other insects to their diet. Compared to other wildlife like coyotes or racoons, turkeys don’t pose a threat.
Male wild turkeys don’t provide any parental care. When newly hatched chicks are born, they follow the female who will feed them for a short while and then they will find food on their own. Courting males “puff” themselves up into big feathery balls and continue to gobble to attract females and also to warn their competitors. They also display for the females by opening their fanned tails and lowering their wings. Males breed with multiple mates, but leave the chick rearing to the females. Wild turkeys get around by walking, although when they need to, they can swim, spreading their tails and kicking. They can also run and fly, but females tend to fly while males tend to run.
Hens usually lay one egg per day over 2 weeks and sometimes for 2 or 3 days she won’t lay an egg in that time frame. She won’t sit on her nest until her last egg is laid, when she will then spend 28 days on the nest leaving only once a day for food and water. At dusk, turkeys fly into the lower limbs of trees and continue to move upward to a high spot to roost. Jim Mesick depicts his turkey with a fixed glance, almost as if he is being hunted. His hunters include coyotes, raccoons, horned owls and especially people. They also have nest predators which include foxes, snakes, raccoons and rodents.
I never once feared the wild turkeys that came into my yard and they seemed pretty much like they ignored me. You can see by my photos how close they allowed me to come. They really are lovely creatures and, for one, I was happy to have them pay a visit. I loved sharing their beauty with you through Jim’s painting and am trying harder not to think about Thanksgiving!
Stay safe this weekend and enjoy Hallowe’en!
See you next Tuesday.