A Wild Turkey Adventure

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub.

Taking a rest break between garden clean-up tasks proved to be an educational experience on Friday, November 6th with an atypical temperature of plus sixty degrees. Barbara, our official photographer, considers it pure pleasure to relax in a chair in our old beater of a camper, catching intimate actions of migrating birds, especially the white-throated and fox sparrows, as they scritch and scratch the earth searching for insects and millet among the fallen leaves.

Friday was this writer’s turn, and the experience gave insight into a favorite November bird. While contemplating life’s journeys from a cozy chair in the battered but comfortable trailer, one felt as though one was being watched. Suddenly, from a ravine a scant twenty feet to the west, a big eye popped up, scanning the action around my abode. The eye disappeared of a sudden, minutes passed, then the head and ugly reptilian neck appeared.

Sensing there was naught to fear other than a couple of gray and fox squirrels busily raiding the bird feeders, the stranger emerged; a handsome Jake turkey. Yoicks! We soon discovered we were surrounded by a flock of chunky brightly hued birds, separated only by a thin layer of dirty camper glass! While concentrating on turkey number one, seven additional metallic bronze-green soldiers had encircled the shack. Up to this point, feeding birds had generously spilled seed on the forest floor; but in mere minutes, black-oil seeds disappeared, followed by millet seeds. In the background, one of the gang of eight stood guard, scanning the brush in all directions. He was the sentry, ignoring the feast, while the others pecked away. Interesting to note, ‘peck a little peek, peck a little peek.’ Individuals would always be eating yet scanning at the same time. During the gorging melee, all other song birds kept their distance. Black-capped chickadees would snatch a seed and disappear, a lone goldfinch paid just two visits. Fox and white throated sparrows fled the scene entirely, while the brave gray and black squirrels ‘invisabilized’ themselves behind limbs and leaves.

With their spurred legs, red wattles and chest tufts, the feathered intruders appeared formidable, but the slightest sound would send them airborne, their long four-foot wings whacking tree limbs as they fled the scene. One felt awed by the event, as though one had intruded upon a sacred ceremony. Nary a sound could be heard other than that of long pointy toenails of the huge birds scrabbling the earth, sending leaves and twigs akilter. (Reminded one of Santa Claus, “Not a sound did he make, but went straight to his work.”) Their appetites sated, the husky healthy turkey dudes slinked quietly away, leaving an eerie feeling in an empty woodland. Chickadees signaled an “all clear” sound above the pitch of the human eardrum, normalcy of seeking and storing birdseed resumed.

The ‘turks’ have a long winter ahead unless unusual autumn and spring thaws bring relief. Riding out heavy winds and blizzard conditions high in treetops consumes much energy. (Try it, but hang on tight with your toenails!) They’ve already plundered areas under oak trees for mast, (see photo) but the competition is hot and heavy. There is an abundance of squirrels and mice seeking the same food supply. Corn and soybean fields have been largely stripped of kernels, with black the predominant color of many if not most fields. A reason birds congregate (by same sex, for the most part) is that many eyes will spot meager meals and call attention to the goodies. The birds seem to operate for the ‘common good.’

Wild turkeys are taken for granted these days. Due to our ages, we can recall a time when none of this species of large game birds roamed the area forests. After initial introduction to Minnesota woodlands, enough turkeys existed in 1978 to have a hunting season, and today, 10,000 of the birds are taken in Minnesota during a year’s time. The 2020 autumn hunt is over, taking place from October 3rd through November 1st. As to the epicurean tastiness of feathered beastie, our first wild turkey feast was a fizzle. A friend killed a turkey in May, leaving the bird in the sun for a couple of hours while he celebrated the bird with pals. Eventually that day, it was popped into the freezer. In November, frozen cadaver came out for the Thanksgiving feast. Let us say that said bird was not the favorite food on the table for such a festive occasion. The bird from your favorite butcher’s poultry freezer will far surpass our first turkey event.

Sometimes turkeys in city areas will attack humans and feel themselves superior to pedestrians on the street, even chasing and whacking people with sharp spurs and strong wings. Not so, the eight surrounding our wood’s-haven.

Be our readers alone, or gathered in a safe small group, may yours be a Happy Thanksgiving! STAY WELL!!!