Wild Turkey

I was out at Blendon Woods Metro Park recently.  There is a decent population of a certain bird that lives there, which can be seen on occasion.  This was one of those occasions.

I was walking down a path in the woods, and stopped to attempt a photo of a Tufted Titmouse.  Suddenly, in the background, dark shapes resolved themselves, walking towards me through the leaf litter.

One bird walked down the path ahead of me.

This bird apparently found something of interest on the ground that it stared at closely.  It may have given off a sound that I could not hear, for suddenly a few others rushed over to see what it had found.

These birds seemed very inquisitive and curious.

Perhaps I was seeing a family group, or an age or sex cohort of foraging birds…

There were 8 birds altogether, slowly foraging their way towards me.

I stood stock-still, clicking away.  Surely the birds could hear the electronic sound of my camera taking pictures.

The birds walked off to one side of me and continued on.

I’m assuming the birds knew I was there- they have keen senses.  They’re probably more used to people in the park where they live than their more remote cousins.

One last look at something interesting on the path!

These birds are Wild Turkeys, a conservation success story.  Once plentiful across much of the country, their numbers were greatly reduced due to hunting and habitat loss.  In the 1940s, wild birds were re-introduced to areas where they had once roamed, and their numbers are now fairly numerous once more.  Wild Turkeys now reside in every state but Alaska.

These birds are one of only 2 domesticated birds that originated in the New World- see the above link for the other species if you are interested!  Curiously enough, these birds were brought to Europe from Mexico in the 16th century and brought by English colonists to the Atlantic colonies, in a roundabout way to eventually cover the countryside.

Founding Father Ben Franklin was a supporter of naming Wild Turkeys as our national bird.  In a letter to his daughter, Franklin compared it favorably to the Bald Eagle, and observed that

For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

Domesticated Turkeys have a reputation for being dumb birds, but their wild cousins are quite smart and have superior senses.  They are very social creatures.

Here’s some pictures I took in the spring of this year, as the males magnificently displayed to the females, once again at Blendon Woods.  I would hear their loud gobble calls ringing through the woods.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a picture of the little poults (chicks) following their mother around later in the season.  They are harder to see, and mother is protective.  Last year, I saw a mother walking through the woods at another park, and all around her, the grass and weeds moved, indicating that her little chicks were there- hidden by the foliage.  Here’s a not-very-good photo of the incident:

This mother Turkey is taking her unseen chicks on a walk through the summer woods to learn how to eat- these birds are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruit, even such small animals as salamanders.

Here is another view from this summer, through an observation shelter window, of perhaps the same family group I saw this autumn.  Or perhaps it is a band of younger birds that hatched during the same season.

Wild Turkeys are fascinating to watch.  As social birds, they interact a lot.  I’ll keep an eye out next year and try to get some poult photos, though this seems to be a challenge!

To learn more about Wild Turkeys, I’d highly recommend the book Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season with the Wild Turkey by Joe Hutto.  Hutto raised a littler of poults who regarded him as their mother.  An award-winning and remarkable PBS episode of the show Nature was made based on this book, and can be seen here or here.  It’s a bit of a tear-jerker, but fascinating to watch.

On a side note, this is my 100th blog post- it all happened so fast, really!  Thanks to all of you who read my ramblings, I do appreciate your time 🙂