Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Life in the mountains seems to bring lots of day to day surprises and turkey sightings are my favorite.
Up in the High Country they liked the wooded hillsides of the country clubs nearby. Huge flocks would congregate in one yard, on the golf course or just in the road. I never expected to see so many here in the Asheville area. I know I have turkeys on our acreage but have not seen them myself - just a feather here and there or scratchings under a tree where they forage for acorns that the squirrels have buried.
My husband works in Arden and just before you get to a busy intersection a small flock hangs out in the yard of one house - they may put food out for them. I guess the tom decided to try his hand at traffic duty one day and caused chaos on the main road by walking around in the center tail out in a fabulous display! He survived and is back in the yard for now.
A friend lives in North Asheville and the turkeys have pretty much taken over her neighborhood. If you don't drive aggressively and forcefully through the streets there, the turkeys will engage you in a game of chicken! And they will win. Most people back down.
The funniest story from that neighborhood concerns the kids waiting for the school bus. Usually it is still dark with a bit of early light filtering through the trees and the kids will be huddled in a group half asleep waiting for the bus to pull up. Suddenly something dark and large drops out of the tree next to the group. More huge dark lumps follow like invading paratroopers, sending the kids screaming and running trying to avoid the attack. They realize it is only the turkeys. They roost up in the branches and drop down at dawn much to the kids surprise!
Let's learn more about these crazy birds ---
The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is native to North America.
Adult male Wild Turkeys have a small, featherless, reddish head that can change to blue in minutes; a red throat in males; long reddish-orange to greyish-blue legs; and a dark-brown to black body. The head has fleshy growths called caruncles; in excited turkeys, a fleshy flap on the bill expands, becoming engorged with blood. Males have red wattles on the throat and neck.
Turkeys have a long, dark, fan-shaped tail and glossy bronze wings. The male is substantially larger than the female, and his feathers have areas of red, purple, green, copper, bronze, and gold iridescence. Female feathers are duller overall, in shades of brown and gray. The primary wing feathers have white bars. Turkeys have 20,000 to 30,000 feathers. Tail feathers have the same length in adults, different lengths in juveniles. Males typically have a "beard" consisting of modified feathers that stick out from the breast. Beards average 9 inches (230 mm) in length. In some populations, 10 to 20 percent of females have a beard, usually shorter and thinner than that of the male. The adult male normally weighs 11-24 lbs. The adult female is typically much smaller at 6.6-12 lbs. The wingspan ranges from 49-57 inches.
Wild Turkeys are surprisingly agile fliers and very cunning, unlike their domestic counterparts. Turkeys are very cautious birds and will fly or run at the first sign of danger. In flight they can reach a speed of 50 miles per hour. They usually fly close to the ground for no more than a quarter mile (400 m). Turkeys have many vocalizations: "gobbles," "clucks," "putts," "purrs," "yelps," "cutts," "whines," "cackles," and "kee-kees." In early spring, male turkeys, also called gobblers or toms, gobble to announce their presence to females and competing males. The gobble can carry for up to a mile. Males also emit a low-pitched drumming sound. Hens "yelp" to let gobblers know their location. Gobblers often yelp in the manner of females, and hens can gobble, though they rarely do so. Immature males, called jakes, yelp often.
Turkeys are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climbing shrubs and small trees to feed. They prefer eating hard mast such as acorns,nuts, and various trees, including hazel, chestnut, hickory, and pinyon pine as well as various seeds, berries such as juniper and bearberry, roots and insects. Turkeys are also known to occasionally consume small vertebrates like snakes, frogs or salamanders. Poults have been observed eating insects, berries, and seeds. Wild turkeys often feed in cow pastures. They sometimes visit backyard bird feeders to search for seed on the ground. Turkeys are also known to eat a wide variety of grasses.
Turkey populations can reach large numbers in small areas because of their ability to forage for different types of food. Early morning and late afternoon are the desired times for eating.
Males are polygamous, so they form territories that may have as many as 5 hens within them. Male Wild Turkeys display for females by puffing out their feathers, spreading out their tails and dragging their wings. This behavior is most commonly referred to as strutting. Their heads and necks are colored brilliantly with red, blue and white. The color can change with the turkey's mood, with a solid white head and neck being the most excited. They also use their gobble noises and make scrapes on the ground for territorial purposes. Courtship begins during the months of March and April, which is when turkeys are still flocked together in winter areas.
Males are often seen courting in pairs with both inflating their wattles and spreading tail feathers. Only the dominant male would strut and drum on the ground. The average dominant male that courted as part of a pair fathered six more eggs than males that courted alone.
When mating is finished, females search for nest sites. Nests are shallow dirt depressions engulfed with woody vegetation. Hens lay a clutch of 10-14 eggs, usually one per day. The eggs are incubated for at least 28 days. The poults leave the nest in about 12–24 hours.
(Above information from Wikipedia!)