The Gathering

I don’t know where wild turkeys spent the recent miserable winter, but the bunch at Fort Snelling must have found plenty of sustenance.  On a recent warm (i.e., above freezing) day, they were out in great numbers along the road in the park.

A few of the more than two dozen birds shuffling through the leaf litter beneath some recently melted snowbanks.

A few of the more than two dozen birds shuffling through the leaf litter beneath some recently melted snowbanks.

The hens are almost camouflaged in the dappled sunlight beneath these trees, especially when they stand completely motionless.

The hens are almost perfectly camouflaged in the dappled sunlight beneath these trees and dried grass stems, especially when they stand completely motionless.

Hens stick together in small flocks outside of the breeding season, often foraging and roosting at night as a group.  However, in the breeding season (which must begin soon), hens join the all male flocks to be entertained by the strutting, drumming, and gobbling of multiple males.

The males, with their red wattles and glossy black and brown plumage stand out more conspicuously -- for good reason.

The males, with their red wattles and glossy black and brown plumage stand out more conspicuously — for good reason.

The role of the male turkey in the whole reproductive process is pretty simple — to look (and sound) good enough to attract as many females as possible.  Apparently, an individual male’s success with the opposite sex is better if he presents himself as part of a male duo — the dominant male having the most success and his sidekick lesser success but still able to pass along some of their genes.  This scheme works because the two males are often brothers sharing a lot of the same genes.

Males don’t participate in any of the nesting (which takes about 28 days) or chick rearing, so after an intense few weeks of feather ruffling and strutting, they rejoin their bachelor brothers for a pleasant summer of loafing.

A tom turkey displaying to several females in my backyard two years ago in early April.

A tom turkey displaying to several females in my backyard two years ago in early April.  The white head, blue face, long drooping “snood” hanging down over its beak, and red engorged wattles indicate a bird in the prime of its sexual vigor.

8 thoughts on “The Gathering

    • Yes, they are a far cry from the white-feathered variety. Interestingly, Brits were the ones who dubbed them turkeys, based on their supposed route of travel through the country (Turkey) to get to the UK.

    • They favor oak and beech forests for foraging, and conifers for roosting. But I never see them in the middle of winter, only in the fall and the almost springtime around here. They are good fliers, but not migrators, so where they go in mid-winter is a mystery to me.

  1. That last shot is spectacular. My image of a wild turkey was formed from all of the cardboard cutouts that we would pin to the wall in elementary school at Thanksgiving time–I have never seen one in person.

  2. There’s a good size flock that hangs out in one of the places I go for bird walks and they are usually out in all kinds of weather but this year they’ve been hiding here too. Any day now I expect them to be out and noisy. And I’ve noticed those males do love to pose!

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