Dec 22

To Be a Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey. Meleagris gallopavo
The wild turkey walked left toward where I’d put food but clearly was nervous about my presence. It had numerous caruncles on its neck and a small dewlap under its head.

The gurgling-like chuckle came from my right, and I peered through the three-inch diameter window in my blind. My index finger pulled the fabric one way, then another, so I could see more. There, not much more than one hundred feet away, were two wild turkeys pecking at something along the small brook. I’d been seeing many tracks in the snow since visiting my sister in Western Pennsylvania a week ago, but these were my first close look at a living bird.

Wild Turkey tracks
A flock of wild turkeys had come down this trail, leaving all their tracks in the fresh snow.

I’d been spreading seeds around a stump each day to attract birds. The location was several hundred yards down from the barn in a black walnut grove and near the spring. I’d only just set the blind up early that morning and had brought only the 800 mm to the blind. If the turkeys came to the feed, at best, I could do a headshot and maybe some closeups of their feathers.

Wild Turkey
The wild turkey looked right at me. I had my telephoto lens sticking out of the blind and was trying to capture a photo of it. The two birds were backtracking, having decided not to go to the food. Both sexes have caruncles and a dewlap. In males, they will often be bigger for courtship.

The birds continued to give quiet chucks; they knew I was there and were nervous. When I was growing up fifty-sixty years ago, we had no wild turkeys on the farm. Overhunting had exterminated them from Pennsylvania, but the state had started a program to reintroduce them. So, in high school, my buddies and I would go to a park twenty miles from here to see if we might see one of those released birds. In the last thirty years, though, they have become abundant around the farm and all across Pennsylvania. It is one of the conservation success stories of the last half-century.

The two birds walked behind the black walnut to my right and began to cross the opening toward the stump. Their gait slowed, and their heads went back and forth. Nope, it was too much, and they turned around, heading down the hill away from me. I began to lean back and forth, looking out the small side window and the front one where my lens protruded. Over by the lane, six more turkeys were coming my way. 

Meleagris gallopavo
Wild Turkey
The left side of a wild turkey shows how the wing folds and rests on the top of the tail feathers.
Wild Turkey
The wings fold along the sides and then slightly cross on the back of this wild turkey.
Wild Turkey
Meleagris gallopavo
The folded wing of a wild turkey shows the detailed pattern and sheen to the feathers.

This flock didn’t come by way of the spring but instead dropped into the ravine down the hill and walked up toward me. They stopped and began milling around as soon as they came out of the gully. They, too, had detected me and were coming no further. The group conferred for several minutes before backtracking to the lane and heading into the sidehill pasture. 

I gave the birds another five minutes before opening the back door on my blind and crawling out. A larger flock of twenty to thirty turkeys walked along the hill’s crest. The group moved right until they noticed me standing several hundred yards from them. Now joined by the birds that had come to visit, the flock turned around, heading north and walking more rapidly, eventually disappearing around the bend.

Meleagris gallopavo
Wild Turkey
The wild turkey walked cautiously away from where I was trying to hide in a blind. It clearly knew I was there and was unwilling to come to the food I’d spread.

3 Responses to “To Be a Wild Turkey”

  1. linda budan says:

    Love the photos. We also got a treat and saw lots of wild turkeys last fall on fish trap snake river outpost trip.

  2. Barbara Bancroft says:

    Wild turkeys!!! Great!!

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