Welcome to the twelfth issue of Stalking Mike Blair Outdoors. If you’ve been paying attention to this website, the youtube channel or our social media pages, you will have noticed that Mike has produced a new short video of turkey fights. Normally, conversations involving turkeys don’t occur until Thanksgiving. However, now is a perfect time to see and hear these popular birds.
As Mike describes in his video, Turkey Fight, this turkey mating season. You can view groups of turkeys strutting around, trying to attract the attention of the opposite gender. Loud gobbles and turkey calls can be heard in the air and males are puffed up and showing off to catch the eye of a female.
Wild Turkeys are native to the Americas and may be found in every state, except Alaska. You can find them wandering around woods and clearings, most often in flocks. They can be spotted on the ground most of the time but occasionally you can find them up in their tree roosts at the end of the day.
Turkeys are large plump birds with long legs, a small head on a long, slim neck and the famous wide, rounded, fan-like tail. These game birds are dark overall with a bronze-green iridescence. Their wings are dark, and barred with a bold white. The bare skin of their head and neck varies from red to blue to gray. The female turkey is decidedly smaller and only the males have the red snood on top of the beak and the fleshy wattle underneath. Turkeys are 43.4 – 45.3 inches in length and have a wingspan between 49.2 and 56.7 inches. (Found on allaboutbirds.org)
Wild Turkeys are omnivores, meaning they eat plant matter. They forage for nuts, berries and other seeds. When deep snow covers the ground they eat hemlock buds, evergreen ferns and club mosses. If nuts are scarce during the spring they have been known to dig up plant bulbs. Occasionally, they will supplement their diet with salamanders, snails, ground beetles and other insects. If you want to attract turkeys to your yard, try planting low nut, fruit or berry producing shrubs. You may also try scattering corn on the ground, but this method may attract other animals as well, so be careful.
Here in a couple weeks, the turkeys will have all paired off and prepare to nest. The female will scratch a shallow depression into the soil. This depression is about 1 inch deep, and 10 inches wide. She will then line the depression using only the dead leaves and other plant materials already present at the nest site. Her clutch size can be anywhere from four to seventeen eggs but she will only have one brood per year. The incubation period for the eggs is 25-31 days and the nestling period is a mere one day. The eggs are a pale yellowish tan, evenly marked with reddish brown or pinkish spots. When the young turkeys hatch they are well-developed and covered with tawny, brown, pink and gray down.
Males will breed with multiple mates and leave the chick-rearing to the females. Chicks travel in a family group with their mother and family groups will often combine. This forms large flocks of young turkeys accompanied by two or more adult females. Turkeys have a long list of predators both during nesting periods and outside of it. Large family groups can help to protect against these predators. Winter groups can sometimes exceed 200 turkeys!!
A fun fact about turkeys: some turkey fossils have been unearthed across the southern United States and Mexico, some of them dating from more than 5 million years ago! Also, if they need to turkeys can swim by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails and kicking (similar to ducks).
Take yourself for a walk in the country or even around the edges of town. Sometimes you can see groups of turkeys crossing the road or in a field nearby from your car. Look for these interesting groups of birds, maybe you can spot a male fight. Go check out Blair’s video and learn about the fascinating ways that male turkeys show off and “neck wrestle.” Listen closely for their loud raucous calls and well-known gobble. Be sure to keep up with us on this website and our social media sites, to stay up to date on new work from Mike Blair.
Be sure to check out the Turkey Photo Gallery!