10:30 p.m. - 2006-03-11
How are you? All is well here.
The critter report is varied. I went to WI last weekend to see my family and saw a robin! Also my sister K and her boyfriend CE created snow sculptures in my family's yard. There was a snow beaver, chicken, and squirrel! Alas, more snow fell and covered them, and I didn't take a picture.
Neat-o. It's so exciting that scientists are discovering new creatures.
In non-creature reporting, I'd like to say that I get pissed off when I see people who look cute while exercising. Both at Bally's and around my neighborhood, there are these well-attired, perky, neat-haired women running around. How can a ponytail stay sleek while running? My hair is curly, so maybe my ponytail is never sleek, but...my face is red, hair everywhere, and I'm wearing a possibly coordinated outfit?
Ok, rant over. Back to wildlife! Many hawks were in evidence as I drove four hours back and forth to WI. Also, flocks of wild turkeys!
So let us learn about Benjamin Franklin's preferred national bird, the wild turkey!
Meleagris gallopavo is a member of the Order Galliformes, which contains 256 species of quail, grouse, pheasants and turkeys. Also the wild relative of the domesticated chicken! In fact, turkeys were domesticated by the Aztecs! And of course hunted by Native Americans.
Most of the birds in this order are sexually dimorphic: males and females are significantly different in size and color. Male turkeys have more iridescent feathers, along with a bald, brightly colored head (blue, red or white), while females are smaller and more drab.
Here's a picture of strutting male turkeys from www.kurnik.int:
Here's a close up from William C. Alexander:
Can you see the weird appendages on their head and neck? Most significant is the wattle, hanging underneath the beak! The wart-like growth on the forehead is called a caruncle. And then there is the black breast-tuft hanging down, which feels like coarse hair.
Turkeys enjoy mature hardwood and coniferous forests with some open fields and swamp areas. (I saw about 100 turkeys in fields along the highway.) The birds enjoy eating seeds, nuts, leaves, buds, fern fronds, acorns, and about 10% of their diet comes from insects and salamanders.
Most active in the hours of dusk and dawn, turkeys roost in trees over night. They can fly short distances but make up for wimpy flight skills with their excellent running ability.
Wild turkeys are found in Central America, the eastern United States, and in various spots throughout the west. Southern turkeys start feeling romantic in late January, while birds up in the north get horny in late February.
Males and females remain separate throughout the year (except when chicks of both genders are being cared for under Mama's wing.) In the spring, males separate off into male bands, which establish territories and begin strutting and displaying. (Like the boys in the above photo.) This involves erect feathers, puffed out chests, and blood-engorged wattles. And of course gobbling! Only male turkeys can gobble, and this cry can carry over a mile.
Female turkeys form groups called display flocks, which move throughout the male territories. The most impressive males will be approached by a female for mating. The territory of successful males can include up to five hens, who will keep hooking up with him until they lay their eggs.
Females make shallow nests, usually hidden under brambles. Eight to fifteen eggs are laid, which the hen incubates for 25 to 31 days. Baby turkeys are called poults! After 24 hours they can walk and feed themselves. For two weeks the Mama turkey broods the poults at night, and protects them from predators.
Here's a baby picture from www.epa.gov:
Turkey hens will also "egg dump", which means they will lay eggs in grouse nests. Meanwhile, pheasants will lay eggs in turkey nests.
Young male poults will join male wintering flocks in the fall, while the female poults stay with their mothers through the spring. Even though turkeys are sexually mature at 10 months, most jakes (yearlings) can't display impressively their first year and don't get laid.
At the end of the 19th century, turkeys were greatly overhunted. As the new century progressed they were re-introduced to their former habitats, and by the 1980's were thriving. Many states now have a wild turkey season.
The wild turkey hunt is a popular sport with my family. My Dad has this little slate turkey call, over which he drags a stylus to make a clucking noise (that's how female turkeys communicate.) Many a morning I was awakened by this clucking noise, followed by Dad bellowing "gobble Gobble GOBBLE!"
Other than humans, adult turkeys are food for coyotes, eagles, bobcats, owls, and mountain lions. Turkey eggs are taken by raccoons, opossum, foxes, skunks and the bull and rat snake.
Have you learned anything about the wild turkey? I hope you spot some this spring. My Dad was informed that he needed to catch me a poult; we'll see if he follows through on that!
Cluck cluck...gobble gobble!