Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

April 18, 2012

Dork Turkeys on the Trot

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:11 pm

Yeah, I know. Seeing Wild Turkeys is nothing special these days. It is even more  “un-specialer”when you are talking about Northern Michigan. NOT seeing wild turkeys is probably a more reportable subject. Because of this I have long resisted the temptation to feature turkeys on my blog expect to focus on the rare occasion when I am able to capture them doing something different.  I’ve yet to see any doing the Tango on a barn roof or playing rugby.  Strutting turkeys are spectacular, so I am always on the look-out for this behavior. I attempted to show you some courting turkeys last year in this blog, but my shots were taken from a quarter mile away. They were admittedly of Loch Ness Monster quality.

The peak of the gobbling season – when the males puff up, fan out their feathers, and gobble incessantly for the benefit of the gals – can begin as early as February and runs through May. The birds commence their courtship while they are still concentrated into their wintering areas. Late April- early May is the peak time.

Because this is the prime courting time, my eye has been peeled for turkey gangs. I came upon some strutting spring Gobblers near West Branch the other day and, because I actually was able to view these dandies at a fairly close distance, and (this is a big AND) because the day was clear and the angle of the morning sun was just right, I was able to both see them and photograph them.  So (he continues un-necessarily) I bring them to you. These fowl delivered a slight twist on the usual story, however.

There were at two Toms performing for the benefit of a half dozen hens in this cluster. There was a bit of gobbling going on, but the dance was fairly quiet. The two males were paralleling each other as they strutted and fanned – they were never more than a few feet apart. In fact it was hard to get a picture of one without getting the other in the viewfinder.Wing tips dragging on the ground and tails fully fanned, the two stepped forward with measured military precision. Their heads were held back to display their bright blue and red fleshy wattles and “snoods” (the floppy projection that drapes over the beak). As impressed as I personally was with the show, there was something amateurish about the dancing Toms and the hens quickly became uninterested. They started to file away toward the brush and left the guys to follow meekly behind (see below).

I noticed several things about these gents. Mature Toms normally have prominent beards – those bristly tufts that project from the mid-line of the chest.  The display posture (chest out) is meant to highlight this feature. These two birds had very short beards which barely made it out past the layer of chest feathers. They also had very short spurs on their legs. Mature birds have spurs in excess of 1 inch while these spurs barely qualified as nubs. In short, we were dealing with a pair of dorks here.

The un-equal tail feathers were probably the most obvious dork feature. You’ll note in the pictures and movie (here) that the central tail feathers were much longer than the rest. The outer feathers were ragged and worn looking. This feature became apparent when the fans were fully displayed. Young turkeys don’t fully molt their tail feathers until they have reached their 2nd autumn.  The molting process proceeds from the inside out which means that the new central feathers come in first and the full complement of tail feathers are not replaced until late in their sophomore year.  In other words, an unequal tail indicates a bird in it’s first Spring. These fellows were barely out of the Freshman class.

The sight of a puffed out Wild Turkey is a spectacular thing even if if all the feathers and bling aren’t all in place. These guys looked like Thanksgiving candles and the sight was satisfying enough. Probably the only reason I was able to approach them so closely was because they were inexperienced. Thanks for the show, Boys, and good luck with the chicks and the frustrated hormones.

1 Comment »

  1. In my neck of the woods (Oregon), we don’t spot turkeys (dork or otherwise) strutting about. Love the info in this post! I had no idea I was so ignorant about what makes tom turkeys attractive…here I thought those guys were looking pretty good! Thanks for the education.

    Comment by Patricia Lichen — April 21, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

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