Birder's Journal: Giving Thanks for Wild Turkey Sightings

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My cat had a similar encounter in the driveway. Hollow knocks brought me to the door—the clucking of a female turkey. She and the cat were in a staring match, and it was the cat who blinked and withdrew.

The cat tried to be nonchalant, but I think she was shaken, which made me suspect she had never seen the likes of a wild turkey. I knew one thing: She wasn't about to disturb the eight crow-size poults that lurked in the leaf litter behind their protective mother.

There was no adult male in sight, because the female assumes all the duties of nesting; the male's reproductive role begins with courtship and ends with mating. The female and young stay together through winter, often joining other broods to form large flocks.

Adult males mix with these winter flocks, travel alone, or gather in their own groups. A winter flock might have 100 members, but in Connecticut flocks of 10 to 20 are typical.

The largest winter flock I've come across numbered 25 and included adult females, four or five adult males, and smaller birds that must have been born the previous summer. On a mild afternoon in early December, I had reached the midpoint of a trail through second-growth deciduous woods, and after crossing a stream, heard an alarm call.

I froze and saw a few turkeys heading away, up a hill. More foraged farther up, and others to the right were threading their way through shrubs and boulders. Spread out across the hillside, the flock moved slowly to the left, noisily raking their feet through the leaves.

When raking, the birds stood in place and pulled their feet back, the way we clean our shoes on a welcome mat. As they pecked the exposed ground for food—probably acorns and hardy insects—some ruffled their feathers, showing their salt-and-pepper primaries and secondaries.

My approach drove half the flock over the crest of the hill; the rest went over a stone wall to the left. Suddenly, I was alone on the hillside, and all was quiet. An eerie peacefulness pervaded the scene—had they really been here, these feathered dinosaurs?

The proof was all around: dozens of bare circles of earth rimmed with leaves, a swath covering the full breadth of the hillside, bordered by a stone wall to the west, a road to the east. It was, I thought, an avian Stonehenge, and I had seen its creators at work.



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Nationalgeographic.com Bird-Watching Sites:
Boston Area
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Florida Keys Area
Maine's Acadia National Park
Mount Rainier
New Orleans Area
New York City Area
North Carolina's Outer Banks
Philadelphia Area
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Rocky Mountain National Park
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Utah
Washington's Olympic National Park
Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park
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From the National Geographic Store:
Guide to North American Birds
Portable Birdsong Identifier
Birder's Journal
Songbirds Puzzle

Additional Information from Related Web Sites:
American Bird Conservancy
Fish and Wildlife Service Bird Web Site
National Audubon Society
Environmental Protection Agency: Bird Conservation

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