Talking Turkey

Master Plant Thrasher

Happy (day after) Turkey Day!

There is a reason that Benjamin Franklin stated that he though the Wild Turkey "was a much more respectable bird" than the bald eagle with respect for it being chosen as the symbol of America.

They are quite beautiful in so many ways - some of my favorite photography subjects are the wild turkeys that roam our neighborhood.  Goodness knows we get plenty of opportunity to watch and digitally capture their activities where we live.

When we first moved into our little cabin in the woods four and a half years ago, we quickly discovered that the turkeys were hardly wildlife, but actually fellow residents.  They spent quite a few nights on the roof of our house when we first moved in.  We found them fascinating from the start, and watch for "Our Turkeys" on their route through our yard and around the neighborhood every day, so they are good friends these days, even if they can be maddeningly destructive to the plants we spend a lot of effort growing!

Despite their reputation for not being the brightest of birds, turkeys are actually quite intelligent and have a very complex social structure.  They look out for one other, especially their young, and I once witnessed a group of turkeys mourning over a family member after she'd been struck by a car on Paradise Road near my house.  The whole family stood vigil over her, despite cars on the road. I honked and waited for them to get out of the road, hoping they would stay safely out of traffic and out of the road.  It was heartbreaking to see how hard it was for them to leave their friend.

I giddily look forward to seeing the chicks every spring, and it's really an honor to see the hens that we hang out with all year, raising their little ones, sharing their family moments with us. I imagine looking into the beautiful, doting eyes of a turkey mama watching over her poults is not very different than looking into the eyes of any mother, human or other wise.  We've been privy to watch them napping in our yard, hens shielding the chicks with their wings, mamas teaching the young ones to fly when they're ready, then watching the young ones grow into teenagers and mature adults.  We once had the opportunity to save a group of stranded babies after they got stuck in our planter box a couple of years ago.  What an experience!

The antics of our Toms are fantastic comic relief, especially during breeding season.  Even when you can't see them, you can hear their gobbling for hours on end as they fight for their places in the gaggle.  We've observed them strut back and forth in front of a shiny car for hours, unsure whether they're practicing, aware that they're seeing themselves or if they're just merely confused, and thus offended by their own reflections.  We've been witness to parading gobblers shaking and vibrating like feather-covered exotic dancers.  The first time I saw a pair of Toms tussle, in a chest-butting, wings flapping, feathers flying display of manliness, I worriedly wondered if the would actually kill each other over a girl.  I stood in the window wringing my hands as they circled the yard, grabbing each other by that wrinkly flap of skin over their beaks (appropriately called a snood) and pulling for all their worth.  How they could squawk and hold on, I couldn't fathom, but I was pleasantly surprised that, as delicate as it the snood might appear, it didn't come off when pulled to what seemed like far beyond the limit during a hearty wrestling match.  Every bird survived his battle, but I suppose there was some hierarchy established as a result.  There were some sore snoods and weary wattles to follow, I'm sure.  Ouch!

Our group of turkey friends has evolved since our first year here in so many ways.  They no longer sleep on our roof at night, but go uphill and roost in the trees.  We often time our evening walks with "Turkey Launch Time", when they all take to the trees, one at a time, by running downhill first, then leaping into the tree branches in the creek below.  Although they are nearly impossible to tell apart, we do miss "Gimpy", "Consuela" the adopted peahen, and "Mr. Big Tom" (with only 3 tail feathers) from the first couple of years we lived in our little cabin.  This year's group is bigger than ever, with 6 toms and almost 15 hens.  And as grumpy as it makes me when they thrash the plants on my deck, I try not to scare "Miss Limpy" too much when shooing our friends away from the vegetable garden.

Our flock of feathered friends provides a steady stream of live entertainment, like our own custom Turkey Learning Channel.  And I love those Birkey Turds.


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