Monday, November 25, 2013

It’s all about the Turkeys!

The leaves are deep on the ground. It is impossible to walk quietly any more, nearly impossible to sneak up on wildlife. Unless of course they are making more noise than you are.
If you walk a wooded trail, especially one that borders open fields, listen for rustling leaves and what sounds like happy laughter. You will probably come upon a flock of wild Turkeys. They are quite abundant this year, and far more visible as they guide their now, nearly full grown, young through the woods moving from place to place.
Adult male in full display.
During the earlier parts of the year, while the young are so little and very vulnerable, they are quite secretive. You can literally stumble into a family group and they will not burst up and away until you are almost upon them. Even at a very young age, the little ones have the ability to leap high, flap and lift up into trees, high enough for safety.
Now, in the fall, they are bigger and bulkier. They are actually quite fast runners, when they want to be. However when you are in your car, waiting for a flock to cross the road, they stroll quite leisurely. They will also fly when they choose. Never assume the crossing is finished. There is always a straggler, dashing across at the last minute, being a danger to himself and your car.
Hen with two young.
During the fall, several family groups often join up into flocks of more than 30. They travel together for safety, always with one or two adults on alert and on guard. The rest forage actively eating just about anything they can find. Generally vegetarian, they will eat insects during the warmer seasons. Now it is all nuts and seeds and berries. Acorns are a staple in their diet. This year has not been a good mast year, meaning not a lot of acorns on the ground. Oaks tend to have irregular cycles of acorn production and the creatures that rely on them (turkey, deer, squirrels, and other small mammals) will have population cycles that follow the food source. This could be a difficult winter for those that rely on acorns.
Showing off.
Wild Turkeys are known to visit bird feeders, feasting on the ground on sunflower seeds. They also welcome corn, peanuts and even poultry food offered by some during hard winters. It is important though to not distribute feed that has had medication, hormones or growth regulators included. Plain cracked corn is probably the best.
In the woods, look for disturbed leaves, the Turkey-scratch sites, where they scrape the leaves aside to look for nuts and seeds. It is easy to spot areas where it looks like a great leaf fight occurred, and know it is really a turkey dining area.
Turkeys foraging through a field.
Turkeys were abundant when the first “Pilgrims” arrived, a staple for Native Americans. But over the following centuries, with forests cleared and human populations exploding, their own populations plummeted until they were extirpated from a lot of the Northeast. A reintroduction effort here in CT, in the 70’s, was successful because the State had returned to being heavily forested. Natural predators include coyotes and the young are prey for a number of other larger mammals and hawks as well.
Young turkey beginning to show adult plumage.
Wild Turkeys can be found on most Avalonia preserves. They are often spotted in the fields of Preston Preserve, Knox Preserve, Fennerswoods, Deer Run and Moore Woodlands among others. But they mostly spend time foraging in the wooded preserves: Hoffman, Perry, Henne, Tefftweald, Avery, to name just a few.
Rare, partly white, wild turkey. Photo by Beth Sullivan.

When you take your post-Thanksgiving dinner walk, go slowly through the woods. Listen for rustling and gobbling. They are giving thanks for being spared this holiday!

Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Written by Beth Sullivan.
Unless otherwise marked, photographs by Rick Newton.

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