Sunday, November 22, 2009

Turkeys I Have Known

I'm talking about the ones with feathers, not the non-feathered variety that plague us all everyday.

I live in a New England suburb. The area is mainly houses and lawns, with an occasional patch of woods like the one on the hill behind my house. We have the usual wildlife: squirrels, chipmunks, songbirds, rabbits, deer, raccoons and the occasional fox, opossum and groundhog. Up until a few years ago, we never had wild turkeys. Once, long ago, a domestic turkey, probably an escapee from someone's yard, wandered through for a few days, and for a year or two we had ring-necked pheasants, but no wild turkeys.

One day I looked out at my back yard, and there the turkeys were, pecking at the spilled seed under the bird feeder. They usually arrive in groups of females (hens) or males (toms) but not the two together. The only time we'll see them together is in the spring, when the toms display themselves for the hens. The traditional picture of a Thanksgiving turkey with his feathers fluffed up is a tom in courtship display. He'll ruffle his feathers that way in the spring to attract the hens' attention, but not in November. The hens also fan their tails, but their display is not nearly as striking.

How do you tell the sexes apart? Turkeys are all large brown birds with sharp beaks and big, spurred feet. The toms are generally larger than the hens and have bright, iridescent feathers. These distinctions are apparent in a mixed sex group, but for most of the year, the birds segregate into male or female only groups.

An undeniable difference is what my husband calls the tom's "chest hair"--a bundle of long coarse feathers that hangs loose from the tom's neck and swings as he walks. I would have called the feather bundle neckties, but chest hair works, too.

As for the noises they make, in most ways they sound like chickens. They all cackle and squawk. But the toms gobble, a rapid "gobble-gobble-gobble", which is why they're called gobblers.

I enjoy the turkeys. We call them turkels, to distinguish them from the turkey that will grace our dinner table on Thanksgiving. Watching them is still a treat. Most of the time all they do is stop for a snack at the bird feeder and a drink from the bird bath. But I do have two special stories about the turkeys that have visited my yard.

Tomorrow: Turkey Tales.

Thank you all,

Linda Banche
Regency romance--most with humor, some with fantasy, and occasionally a paranormal
Lady of the Stars
--4 stars from Romantic Times, 2010 EPIC EBook Competition finalist, Regency time travel available from The Wild Rose Press
--Regency Halloween comedy available from The Wild Rose Press
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Top two pictures from Wikipedia, "chest hair" by my husband


Lindsay Townsend said...


I love 'em!

Fascinating to learn about the toms and their chest hairs. I love the plumage of the wild birds: so subtle.

Can't wait to learn more!

Francesca Prescott said...

Oh, I wish we had wild turkeys around here! How cool would that be?! Oh well, I'm thankful for the pretty little robins, and sparrows, and herons, and magpies, and...well, actually, I'm not so keen on the giant black crows, noisy, bad tempered creatures that they are...

Happy Thanksgiving, Linda!
xx Francesca

Linda Banche said...

Thanks, Lindsay. More turkeys tomorrow--true Turkey Tales!

Thanks, Francesca. I'm sure you have some great birds in Switzerland that don't live here. We don't have magpies, but crows are everywhere. The crows have a winter roost in the woods behind my house, and we get literally HUNDREDS of them every night. Their cawing drowns out everything.

Kaye Manro said...

How intereting Linda! A great post to learn about turkeys. I understand why you call them something different than the ones we have on our tables! These guys are more like visiting pets.

Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, Linda, fantastic Turkel blog. It must be a 'human connection thing' ~ but, that's what I call them, only I've been spelling it Turkles.
Whenever I catch a glimpse of them, not recently, darn it, I'll talk to them... hi, turkles... yeah, it's crazy... but, I love 'em.
The second pic is mostly what I've seen around here. The girls.
I have seen the toms a few times with the flock, but it was probably mating season.

Bekki Lynn said...

Great post, Linda.

We love seeing the wild turkeys around here. They often gather in the fields around here.

One day, I was driving to work and a tom flew so low across the four lane highway, that it was nearly hit by the windshield of the car in front of me. It was the first time I'd ever seen one fly.

Looking forward to the stories.

Linda Banche said...

Hi Kaye,yes, they are more like pets. I do enjoy seeing those turkels.

Savanna, great minds think alike! We both call them turkels, and I talk to them, too.

Hi Bekki, I didn't realize turkeys flew, either, until I saw one. See my 11/23 post.

Serena Shay said...

Great blog, Linda! I can honestly say, I've never seen a real turkey that up close and personal!