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Ben Franklin’s National Bird.

October 13, 2012

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 🙂

28 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2012 11:52 pm

    You got some great shots of the noble wild turkey!

    • October 14, 2012 12:50 pm

      Thanks Pat! They were walking towards me slowly, the shots sort of took themselves in this case 🙂

  2. October 14, 2012 8:03 am

    Great post and equally great photos, Tracy. Also, congrats on your 100th post. 🙂

  3. October 14, 2012 10:37 am

    I love to see the turkeys in the wild. Great photos!

  4. October 14, 2012 11:56 am

    Great shots, Tracy! We get flocks of them coming through the property at this time of the year, they come for the acorns on the driveway

    • October 14, 2012 12:52 pm

      That must be great to see, composer! Acorns are a treat to many wild creatures, Oaks are awesome trees 🙂

  5. October 14, 2012 1:18 pm

    It’s amazing how the toms can fluff themselves up to several times their real body size! We have flocks of 25 and 30 birds here in Virginia – I love that they are doing so well!

    • October 14, 2012 6:00 pm

      That’s a lot of Turkeys, Jo Ann! The toms indeed are impressive when they do their dramatic displays.

  6. October 14, 2012 3:30 pm

    What a lovely encounter! You got some great shots.

  7. October 14, 2012 3:35 pm

    W.S…great shots of turkeys…they are a different but beautiful bird…you’re lucky too…I know my son and family had wild turkeys visiting their yard…food, ya know…and the turkeys would attack them…at least come after them…they can be very hostile at times…but I suppose if you were in a place where a shotgun was allowed…they probably wouldn’t be so bold…congrats on the 100th post…great stuff as always…

    Hey, I wondered how the wetlands is doing from you last post???…are they filling back up this fall…maybe a topic for a “Fall” post…I, for one would like to see how it has changed from the last year pictures, to this summer, to now…just an idea…I suppose different vegetation and birds…Okay, I’ll stop…thanks again…

    • October 14, 2012 6:29 pm

      Jim, I’ve seen these particular Turkeys at this park several times and they tend to shy away from people but are neither skittish nor aggressive- I’m guessing that the food is too spread out in the park for them to get too worked up…I’ve never heard of them confronting any visitors, anyway! There are some feeders that the Turkeys seem to congregate around at times, though- one near an observation house. Observers are shielded from getting too close.

      Turkeys at other parks in the area are harder to see and are seemingly more secretive, what I think of as ‘country Turkeys’. So far I’ve only managed to see the one mother with her young ones at another park.

      There are a few wetlands in my area, I’ll be visiting them again to check them out, the rain has returned to normal patterns for autumn here which means it doesn’t rain a lot, but it rains fairly regularly (once a week on average) instead of being in a drought situation. I think it will take a while at this pace to replenish the water table, but at least it isn’t getting lower!

  8. October 15, 2012 12:02 am

    They are fascinating birds. When we moved here about 20 years ago they were beginning to make a comeback in this area. Now there are lots of them, so many in fact that I will be very concerned for them if we have a hard winter. We will often have as many as 50 visit our place in a day and they can become real pests. I have been astounded at the number of different calls that they make, and the diversity of their vocabulary.

    • October 15, 2012 9:27 am

      That’s a lot of birds, montucky! They must be good at wintering over with those kind of numbers!

  9. October 15, 2012 10:34 am

    I am really happy they reintroduced turkeys in Wisconsin. They are so much fun to watch and it’s delightful to watch a family grow up over a summer…

  10. October 15, 2012 12:51 pm

    What a wonderful 100th Post, and wishing you so many more! Thank you, Ellen

  11. October 15, 2012 5:01 pm

    My Life as a Turkey – I loved that episode of Nature and have watched it several times. You got some great pictures of these handsome birds! We see them once in a while around here and they are fun to observe. A very respectable bird indeed.

  12. October 15, 2012 8:59 pm

    We have several flocks of turkeys in this area. A week or two ago, in fairly deep woods,two birds flew over my head and cleared me by about three feet. It took awhile for my heart to return to its normal beating after being startled by them, I can tell you. Congrats on 100 posts!

  13. October 17, 2012 4:41 pm

    Hi Seasons, I sure love your pictures of the Wild Turkeys. Turkeys are around my greater community but I have not seen any in my immediate neighborhood. There were a lot around the area where I have my lake home about twelve miles away. Have a wonderful Thursday tomorrow!

    • October 17, 2012 10:03 pm

      Thanks, wildlifewatcher! It’s good to hear that there are plenty of Turkeys out there 🙂

  14. October 20, 2012 10:37 am

    Wow, just wow!

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