Talkin’ Turkey

Turkey courtship -U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service-in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Turkey courtship (photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Soon the hills will be alive with the sound of music, turkey music that is.  March and April are the courtship months for our vocal feathered friends and we can expect to see them quite frequently as the warmer weather settles in.  Although it is estimated that there are millions of wild turkeys living in the United States today, during the early 20th century the populations had diminished to around 30,000 because of over hunting and loss of habitat.  Yet, throughout history the wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, has played a significant role in the lives of many throughout North America. 

Young male turkeys hanging out in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Young male turkeys hanging out on lawn (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Commonly thought of for our traditional Thanksgiving feast, our wild turkey was actually a mainstay for many Native American tribes who consumed the meat and eggs, and used the feathers for headgear and cloaks.  Why even Benjamin Franklin thought the turkey a noteworthy bird when he wrote to his daughter, Sarah Bache, regarding the bald eagle image used on the Society of Cincinnati’s crest in 1784: “I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

Wild Turkeys in nearby meadow in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Wild Turkeys in nearby meadow (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

So, what is it about these peculiar birds that still resonates with us centuries later?  Is it the curious gobbling that echoes through the forest on a quiet afternoon?  Is it the chest puffing and tail fanning displays of the handsome males as they compete for their hen?  Is it the proud mama as she cautiously leads her chicks through the understory? Or is it that we simply find their bald headed, somewhat homely appearance and quirky personality traits absolutely charming?  Perhaps it’s over 5000 blackish-brown feathers on their adult bodies (except head and neck) and white stripes on the wings, although the males offer a showier range of gold, bronze and burgundy when they display their tail feathers.  Or the size and neck coloring, as the male (or Tom) averages 20 lbs. and 45 inches long with a bright red throat covered in wart-like wattles, while the female, averaging 9 lbs. and 34 inches long, has a darker grayish-black head and throat.  Maybe it’s their piloting skills, as many of us have witnessed when they fly across the road in front of our car, yet more often than not, they would rather run than fly when pursued by a predator.

Wild female turkey with chicks-wikipedia-in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Female turkey with young chicks (photo: wikipedia)

With the wooing season drawing near, there will be plenty of raucous gatherings in the favored forests and meadows that turkeys prefer to inhabit.  Unlike many other bird species, turkeys are not monogamous and the male will mate with as many females as he can coerce.  To keep their strength up, the turkeys will dine on nuts, berries, roots and insects, occasionally snacking on frogs or snakes (perhaps that’s their Viagra?).  All this fancy strutting, gobbling and feather displaying ultimately results in the female creating a nest (usually on the ground concealed in dense vegetation) where she will lay an egg per day (up to 14).  The male is long gone by then, so the solitary hen will sit on her eggs for at least 28 days, and once hatched the precocial poults will be able to leave the nest within 24 hours.  Turkey poults are born with their eyes open, a thick covering of downy feathers, and the ability to run shortly after birth.

Female Turkey roosting in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Female Turkey roosting in tree (Photo:

Because they are preyed upon by a wide variety of creatures; from raccoons, coyotes and foxes on ground to hawks and owls from above, newly hatched chicks stay with their mother, who feeds them while they learn to find food on their own.  As the young birds grow, they tend to remain in groups comprised of other hens and their young, sometimes exceeding 200 turkeys in all.  In order to remain safe from night predators, the flock of turkeys will fly up and roost in trees until daylight, resuming ground level activities once again in the morning.  It seems as if our turkey neighbors are here to stay, and I for one am happy have persevered.

Turkey chicks A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Turkey chicks (photo:

To hear turkey sounds, visit:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology


  1. I think they’re beautiful birds! They come to raise babies here….

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