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self portrait - circa 1996


Wild turkeys: our winter flock

Dear Friends:

Yes, there still are nine-and we believe the same flock that my husband, Mike, and I, have been watching mature into magnificent birds since late last summer. People have reported seeing them as much as two miles away, slowly crossing South Saginaw Street (the main road into Grand Blanc), the same street we no longer feel comfortable pedaling our bikes alongside for fear of our lives. Automobiles are seen racing by at 60 MPH without even noticing one of our largest and most conspicuous birds.

Louise's frequent visitorOur back yard was on this morning’s feeding rounds; they showed up just as the sun was rising. Their typical routine has been: linger for a few weeks, then disappear for a few weeks, etc.: we are at the beginning a new block of time if their behavior continues in this manner.

Those experienced in wild turkey tell us the flock will grow and after a few years we may see fifty birds or more at a time. With the continuous expanse of mixed deciduous oak hardwoods with dense under story and brushy meadow around us it is no wonder they feel comfortable here. I read in The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, “winter flocks” are usually unisexual, that is a mixed flock. We think there are eight females and one lead male; his beard (a thick strand of coarse hair-like feathers growing out of the middle of the breast) is just beginning to show, it is about three inches long. He is bigger, more colorful, and his head has a bluish cast; his vocalizations are also louder, more pronounced and said with conviction while the hens make a thoughtful and slower one-syllable “tuck” sound with heads stretched forward.

As I was filling the bird feeders this morning the flock began to assemble and cautiously inch forward; winter sometimes tames even the wildest of animals when in search of food. I slowly lowered my body clothed in a black down-filled coat I noticed they, too, had fluffed up their downy feathers for insulation. They are used to watching me from my office window as I sit at my computer, this morning the only recognizable part of my body (that is if they have the thought processes for recognition), was my face. As I offered a cupped hand full of black-oil sunflower chips they moved forward and readily accepted the seeds I scattered to the ground.

This morning I learned that they are comfortable with my presence if I stay with the flock and not let a stray hen approach me without the lead male. While filling a feeder away from the feeding flock one hen came with me. She began making a tucking sound because I startled her when I arose from the seed bucket after filling the feeder. Immediately, the larger blue-faced male came racing over, head extended in a mad rush, and gave me a spectacular demonstration of dominance. For the first time in my life I witnessed a wild turkey fanning his tail feathers and fluffing his body almost doubling his size, he also approached me in a fashion I thought might be a tad too aggressive so I tossed a scoop of seed at him a few times to get him to back down. I have no idea how far he would have gone to protect his hen and hope to never know. From now on I know I must act as submissive as his flock, take his lead and stay where I belong.

[photo above by Louise]
Louise Dawson

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J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store
12830 S. Saginaw Street, Grand Blanc, Michigan   810-695-8733
posted 03/15/03 illustrations, text & fun  J.J. Cardinal's 1992-2003
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