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Birding Focus: Interesting stories of our feathered friends.

Wild Turkey, female (left) and male (right)
© George H. Harrison

Wild Turkey
© George H. Harrison

Turkey Time

It’s gobbling time across North America. Throughout April and May, it is no longer unusual to hear the sound of male wild turkeys rattling their gobble to attract hens for mating.

For most of the 20th Century, wild turkeys were either rare or extinct in nearly every part of the continent. Now, thanks to the state wildlife agencies and the Wild Turkey Federation, wild turkeys are again common in most of North America and breed in all 49 continental states.

Typically, the gobbler, a turkey with a beard hanging from its breast, will spread its tail feathers and strut around while emitting a weird sound called a gobble. The noise is loud, raucous, and continuous, starting at sunrise. If a hen is ready to breed, she may be lured to the gobble from a great distance.

The gobbler does not maintain a “harem,” in the purest sense, because turkey hens decide when to breed and with which gobbler. While gobblers strut around living the good life, the hens do all the hard work. They create a nest on the ground, lay 10 to 12 eggs, and incubate the clutch for 28 days. The poults leave the nest soon after hatching, and follow their mothers for the balance of the summer, eating insects, frogs, salamanders, toads, lizards, snakes and snails, as they grow to adults. If they survive their first year (70 percent do not), they may live another seven or eight years. A few may reach 20 years.

-- George H. Harrison