Sunday, May 12, 2013

Struttin' Tom, Terrific

Early this past Friday morning, on a quiet road in SW Manitoba, I watched this spectacular Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) tom strut his stuff for a couple of his lady friends.  

Although a native species to Mexico, which is part of North America as far as geography goes, to the birding community this is an introduced/reintroduced species (as is the Gray Partridge, Chukar and Ring-necked Pheasant).  Depending on the given birder, the Wild Turkey may or may not be deemed worthy of a check-list tick.  I'm not a stickler.  My list criteria is that the birds are now a living and breeding population in the wild. 

We have a few Wild Turkeys in my area, usually along the Souris River valley.  The floods of 2011 took quite a toll on those small populations, so I don't see them often at all.  

And if I do find a male displaying in the Spring, the camera comes out

Pete Dunne calls it The Great American Forest Fowl.  It is true, they forage on the forest floor, raking through the leaf litter looking for nuts, fruits, berries, seeds, tubers...depending on the season and what's around. 

Cool Facts from All About Birds:
  • The Wild Turkey and the Muscovy Duck are the only two domesticated birds native to the New World.
  • In the early 1500s, European explorers brought home and domesticated Wild Turkeys from Mexico. They quickly became popular on European menus thanks to their large size and rich taste from their diet of wild nuts. Later, when English colonists settled on the Atlantic Coast, they brought domesticated turkeys with them.
  • The English name of the bird may be a holdover from early shipping routes that passed through the country of Turkey on their way to delivering the birds to European markets.
  • When they need to, Turkeys can swim by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking.
  • As Wild Turkey numbers dwindled through the early twentieth century, people began to look for ways to reintroduce this valuable game bird. Initially they tried releasing farm turkeys into the wild but those birds didn’t survive. In the 1940s, people began catching wild birds and transporting them to other areas. Such transplantations allowed Wild Turkeys to spread to all of the lower 48 states (plus Hawaii) and parts of southern Canada.  (Note:  the subspecies found out here in the West has white tips to the tail and back feathers, like the original Mexican subspecies, while the eastern birds are all dark. )
  • Because of their large size, compact bones, and long-standing popularity as a dinner item, turkeys have a better known fossil record than most other birds. Turkey fossils have been unearthed across the southern United States and Mexico, some of them dating from more than 5 million years ago.

All right, I guess we didn't need to see that!

All About Birds continues:

Wild Turkeys get around mostly by walking, though they can also run and fly—when threatened, females tend to fly while males tend to run.

At sundown turkeys fly into the lower limbs of trees and move upward from limb to limb to a high roost spot. They usually roost in flocks, but sometimes individually. 

Courting males gobble to attract females and warn competing males. They display for females by strutting with their tails fanned, wings lowered, while making nonvocal hums and chump sounds.

Males breed with multiple mates and form all-male flocks outside of the breeding season, leaving the chick-rearing to the females, The chicks travel in a family group with their mother, often combining with other family groups to form large flocks of young turkeys accompanied by two or more adult females. 

Each sex has an independent pecking order, with a stable female hierarchy and a constantly changing male hierarchy. 

Wild Turkeys are hunted by coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, mountain lions, Golden Eagles, Great Horned Owls, and people. Nest predators include raccoons, opossums, striped skunks, gray foxes, woodchucks, rat snakes, bull snakes, birds, and rodents

Information sources:
All About Birds/Wild Turkey


  1. Lucky! Very cool series of pics!

  2. Wonderful pictures. It's the same story here of reintroduction. Though I don't hunt them I did hunt upland game and waterfowl. Today its birding instead and amazingly there are far more turkeys around than pheasants now...:)

  3. It's so nice to hear you talk turkey K

  4. It's so nice to hear you talk turkey K