Saturday, March 01, 2008
Who would believe it. We've got turkeys in our yard for the first time ever! Our home hosts a number of different types of wildlife that live in our woods: owls, feral cats, racoons, rats, the occaisional fox along with various song birds and small rodents. We even have great blue herons that swoop down to catch the fish in our pond. But never turkeys. This is Long Island folks, around 40 miles from New York City! Apparently these turkeys are not escapees from captivity. Their origin is unknown. It is true that a local man decided to restore the wild turkey to Huntington. He apparently released 15 or so turkeys, on Thanksgiving day in our neighborhood. After much local uproar, he collected them and is raising them himself. This batch of seven birds is apparently not part of the original group. Personally, I am not buying this explanation. Our local town animal control officers want nothing to do with my turkeys - they are free to roam as their nature dictates.
What exactly is their nature and what are they likely to do in the future? Those questions sent me scuttling to Amazon.com for "The Wild Turkey: Biology and Management" edited by James Dickson and published by the National Wild Turkey Federation. (NWTF has a very informative website). The book is facinating and I now know more than you may want to hear about turkeys. But some facts have given me hope that I will not have to garden around turkeys this spring.
1. Turkeys only travel in mixed male/female groups in the winter. So my group of three males and four females foraging on acorns in my yard are pretty typical.
2. Turkeys mate promiscuously from late February to April, after which the females go off by themselves and nest. This may explain why I haven't seen the group in over a week.
3. Turkey eggs incubate for 28 days or so. The poults imprint on the hen and are able to fly 8 days after hatching. Poults follow the hen (who shows little maternal care for older poults) until the following winter when they meet up with a group again, not necessarily the same group.
The mortality rate of eggs and poults is high, possibly because the hen leaves the eggs alone to forage and spend the night in trees. Hens will attempt to chase off preditors though.
4. The toms ignore the hens after mating and usually travel with their sibling toms and exhibit pecking order dominance.
5. Turkeys do fly and they roost in trees at night. They are fond of hemlocks if given a choice.
So I have learned a bit about my turkeys and I have no idea if I will see them again. I suspect I will. Our oak woodland is their preferred habitat and my compost pile in the woodland has been attractive to them. I'll keep you posted (no pun intended).