While I know that turkeys live in our area and have seen them on occasion in the fields, crossing the road and foraging in the airport’s lawn, we have not seen them in our yard. This is probably because we have had two dogs for the last 15 years and they have done an excellent job of policing the wildlife. Sadly since they have gone, the deer and other smaller varmints have moved right in and made themselves at home among my smorgasbord of plants. Ahem, I’ll go back to my story of a more entertaining family and yet to be determined threat assessment to my garden.
So in July we were surprised by a female turkey called a hen with a flock of chicks. I came home from errands and Sir T announced that we had visitors and showed me the pictures he took on the camera. At this point we couldn’t get a good count of how many chicks there were yet.
|First official photo of the turkeys: July 6 For those interested in the flowers, there are delphiniums (purple), |
onions (the balls), butterfly weed (orange), and lamb’s ear (silver).
|The chicks ranged out around the mom in a semi-circle as they moved.|
Momma Turkey kept to a pretty regular schedule walking through our yard at least once in the morning coming from the west and then back through in the afternoon. 10 days later I was able to get some good pictures of her and the chicks. It was amazing to me how much they had grown in that short amount of time. She was picking blueberries off the bush and eating them. Since our bushes are short, she could reach most of what she wanted. The chicks just jumped up in the air to get what they wanted. It was funny and disconcerting at the same time. Yeah, that is cute, but I want some blueberries too please!
|Skittish upon our first meeting, me on the deck, Momma Turkey in the blueberries. July 15|
|I think this picture is hilarious and a bit scary too. Momma is not messing around.|
|Turkey feathers have beautiful coloration and are remarkably able to blend in at the same time.|
As I like to hang my laundry out on the line to dry in the summer time, I often was out in the yard at the same time the little group wandered through. Momma Turkey and I came to an uneasy truce in that she wouldn’t run away and I tried really hard not to be scary. I would talk to her as I walked out to the line and hung up the clothes and then walked back. By the end of summer I could get within 10 feet or so of her as I walked by without causing a ruckus. I never tried to approach her or her babies directly and if I stayed up on the deck, she would simply eyeball me but not appear too anxious of me snapping pictures or just watching the daily parade.
|The wedge formation the chicks traveled in is evident here.|
As the group walked, Momma would give soft vocalizations. The main one seemed to be an “everything is good, keep moving” call that was a cooing sound. This kept the group together as they slowly moved through the yard. There were several other calls including a “danger” call and a “stay hidden” call. The “stay hidden” call sounded like the pinging of radar on a submarine.
|Apparently our whole yard was turkey land. They ventured into the front yard as well. July 22|
I knew that turkeys could fly but had never witnessed this action. Our neighbors have a cat who believes that our yard is his territory now that the dogs are gone. We often find him sitting in random places around the house either being startled or startling us. He never lets us approach him but leaves with a disgusted air of offence that we are running him off his land.
|You can see the respect this cat has for us, |
sticking his tongue out at me as I took his picture from inside the house with the zoom lens.
This cat is not a large cat but he seems to think he is entitled or hasn’t yet experienced the loss of one of his lives. He would often lurk in our yard behind bed #12 attempting to intimidate the Momma turkey. I don’t know if he thought it would fun to jump a chick or was just trying to impress the world with his king of the jungle persona. In any case the chicks were almost as big as he was by this time.
Watching the stand-off from the deck, I even warned the cat that he was an idiot but he didn’t listen. He didn’t back off and went towards a chick and Momma gave the alarm. 11 chicks headed for the trees in an impressive bustle of wings and chattering. I was fairly impressed. Momma went after the cat, he gave up and eventually she sounded the all clear. Turkey chicks drifted down from all directions and proceeded on their way.
Later that week in a conversation with my neighbor, she was complaining about that mean turkey that bit her cat. I almost laughed but managed to keep a straight face as I told her that her cat was not the victim in this case. Apparently, in another altercation, the turkey took a chunk out of the cat’s backside. The cat gave up messing with the turkeys after that. Well, let’s just say, I did not see him in my yard again while the turkeys were around.
It took several weeks for us to determine just how many chicks there were in the group. I would count and then miss one or come up with a different number 4 times in a row. They never stayed still and also blended in so well that you could only see them when they moved. We landed on 11 chicks or poults. I have no idea if this is a “regular” sized group or not, but I was impressed. That is a lot of babies to keep an eye one. We quickly noticed that 9 of the chicks were front and center and turned out nicely and then there were the other 2. One was a wanderer, going off in different directions or just exploring a tasty bit over here a tad longer than the rest and then would rush to catch up. The last one, well, the only thing I can think of was his egg got dropped at some point.
He kinda forgot that he was a bird on occasion and his logic skills were a bit lacking. The neighbor directly behind us puts out bird seed on the ground and the turkeys discovered this and added it to their weekly rounds. His yard is completely fenced in but he would leave his gate open for the turkeys to come in. He managed the walking in or in some cases flying in with his siblings and mom, but the leaving part was hard. He didn’t exactly finish eating when Momma said to and so by the time he looked up, everyone was on the other side of the fence and he had no idea how to join them.
|Turkey turned road runner August 5|
The poor guy ran back and forth next to this fence for about 20 minutes frantically yelling about the fact that he couldn’t get past it. Momma and his siblings were all in the woods on the other side waiting for him. Momma was patiently calling and he was responding, but nobody was going anywhere.
|Hey turkey… you have WINGS…use them!|
I watched and waited for him to get a clue and worried that all his yelling would attract something or Momma would give up on him. After a bit I decided that I would go help remind him that he was a bird by scaring him. I figured that if I got close to him, he would fly up into a tree to get away from me and that would break him out of the mental cage he had put himself in. As I walked around the fence through the woods to get to him, I passed several of his siblings and Momma. She eyeballed me but didn’t leave which I took as a good sign. As soon as I got around the trees and he saw me, the turkey exploded in panic, popped himself over the fence, ran around me to his mom and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Off went the turkeys into the woods and back I went to my yard shaking my head.
|Turkey naptime August 16|
The turkeys became comfortable enough in my yard despite me that they would rest for the afternoon in the sun. I would often come out onto the deck and watch them, sometimes with my camera but more often not. They would acknowledge my presence and keep an eye on me but go about their business slowly moving through the yard. My understanding of what they appeared to eat was an omnivore diet. They loved my blueberries and black berries but also seemed to be eating insects or plants as they moved through my yard with heads down hunting. I do know that we did not seem to have many grasshoppers this year. I don’t know if that was because of our rest year or if they ate them all.
|Momma on patrol while the chicks walked with heads down hunting in the grass.|
|I am about 15 feet away snapping pictures. These guys are old hands with the camera.|
I have not researched how long chicks stay with the mother but this was one of the last times I saw her with the “kids”. By now, the flock had lost the wanderer and the dropped egg babies. A flock of 9 adolescent turkeys now traveled the daily route. At this point in their lives, turkeys go from being called chicks or poults to a Jenny (female) or Jack (male).
|The young’uns all look like their momma now. August 27|
|Flock of 9 heading to the birdseed|
I did not see the turkeys as often once they were on their own. They also seemed to be much more interested in the birdseed than roaming through my yard in search of bugs.
|One of my last turkey sightings September 13|
While we often joked about catching one or two to raise for thanksgiving, I don’t think we would have been able to do it. It was so neat to watch them grow up so quickly. I do not know if this group of 9 siblings will stay together or break up to mate outside of the direct family line. I do know there is another large group of turkeys in the area and perhaps they’ll join up with them. I have not researched much on turkeys but I do know that I would like to raise some of my own one day.
|Bye guys! Thanks for all the entertainment!|