Spring is in the air. A man’s fancy turns to basketball tournaments; or fishing; or golf. It’s part of Nature’s plan.
For a wild turkey, the story takes a different path. March is mating season. Adult males are on parade, hoping to hook up with one or more willing hens. The pageantry is equally theatrical as it is captivating.
Tom turkeys strut about with their tails fanned open like a deck of cards for prospective hens to admire. With their wing flight feathers fully extended downward, they appear to float smoothly across the ground.
Gobbling is a key element of male turkey courting behavior. Toms are gobbling up a storm in the morning hours here in YLP. If they gobble in your back yard, you are not going to be able to sleep in. The volume can at times be so loud that it is heard up to a mile away.
You might see a group of toms standing shoulder to shoulder, strutting their stuff, with feathers (5,000-6,000 of them) all puffed out. Suddenly, and in unison, they will thrust their necks forward and emit a chorus of gobbles followed by a period of silence.
Toms begin their chorus of collective gobbles in the twilight before dawn, while still roosting in the trees; they continue throughout the day. It is a jubilant refrain reminiscent of the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel’s Messiah. I don’t know how tom turkeys manage the choreography, but it certainly is a splendid sight to behold.
Wild toms can weigh upwards of twenty-five, even thirty pounds. Clearly, there is a lot of flesh packed under those huge, feather-covered breasts, but we’ll leave that subject for November meal planning. Toms have a cluster of coarse feathers that protrude from the center of the chest. This breast beard, as it is called, is an important adornment: the longer and fuller the beard, the more attractive a potential mate appears.
Then, there are those odd looking appendages on tom’s featherless head and neck. From a human perceptive, those fleshy bumps and loose skin flapping in the breeze certainly make for a bizarre appearance. With turkeys, though, those oddities are truly the bells and whistles that a hen looks for when selecting her mate.
Caruncles, fleshy bumps of various size on the head and neck, turn a dramatic red when engorged with blood. The snood, another fleshy adornment perched on the base of the forehead, might be erect like a cone; it might also be flaccid, and hang down over the bird’s bill. From a hen’s perspective, the longer the better. And, of course, there is the wattle (or, dewlap), a flap of skin under the chin. Depending upon the bird’s mood, areas of the head and face change color, alternatively red (especially when courting) , white, or blue.
Wild turkeys are currently exhibiting their magnificent courting behavior off Long Hollow Drive. If you are lucky, you might even see them parading down the middle of the road. Please drive carefully.
If all goes as Nature planned, we might start seeing little turkey chicks running around in the next 40-50 days.
Note: today’s post comes courtesy of some neighbors who graciously allowed me onto their property so that I might photograph the turkeys I discovered there. I am always looking for new photo opportunities of birds. If you have nesting hawks, eagles, turkeys, buzzards, any birds actually (or other wildlife), I’d certainly be indebted to you if I could come by to make some photographs. Please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
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Robert Groos is a published photographer and keen observer of nature who lives in Yosemite Lakes Park. He shares some of his outstanding images of our local feathered friends along with some tidbits of interesting facts about each. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
The Pied-Billed Grebe
Hunchback of YLP: The black-crowned night heron
The secret world of the phainopepla
The turkey vulture