April 15, 2017


Observing Turkeys, and Nature's Rhythms (Jon Stableford, 4/15/17, Valley News)

It is mating season for wild turkeys, and lately a tom has been showing up to watch three hens feed beneath our apple trees. They come for the sunflower seeds that greedy blue jays have spilled from the feeders and for the chaff smaller birds have left behind. These hens appeared six weeks ago after a snowstorm, lean and hungry as they emerged from the deep woods. By the time the tom appeared, they had fattened up with what they managed to scratch from the snow.

The male keeps his distance as if he's waiting for a sign. Although he is nearly twice their size, I have never seen him eat. Each day he approaches a little closer, calling to them, and spreads his feathers into a pulsing fan. His head and neck flush a lurid red that suggests there's unruly passion beneath his stately calm. I have witnessed this behavior in other years, but this spring is different with three hens so closely bonded, a single tom, and the daily foreplay so close to the house.

There is order to this annual ritual of mating and renewal. The hens are drawn to our yard because it's safe and there is food, and the tom comes because there are hens. Beyond the apple trees there are predators in the woods. At night we hear the yip and howl of coyotes and occasionally the scream of a fisher cat, and after a snow we see their footprints criss-cross the yard. Yesterday a pair of red foxes trotted by in full daylight. In the woods we see a piles of feathers and scattered bones, so these hens are wary. They take flight whenever we open a door. Lately, since the tom arrived, they have been a little slower to scare.

How do they know what they know of the rhythm of seasons and the ritual of mating? Day after day the tom appears in the afternoon light and begins his dance with no encouragement from the indifferent hens who keep their heads to the ground. And yet, they all seem to know how this will end. When the mating is done, the tom will disappear and the hens will lay their eggs.

Posted by at April 15, 2017 7:36 AM