During our nearly 200 hikes yearly, we revel in seasonal birdlife, although twitterpated spring and wildcare summer offer choicest viewing times. As avian couples woo and mate, then raise their young, you glimpse variations on parenting themes. For wild turkeys, commitment shy toms have all the fun while hens band together to raise their broods.
A slow-mo hike along an old logging road in Okanogan National Forest with our fourteen pound predator, otherwise known as Mighty Italian Greyhound (MIGgy), prompts spontaneous flushing of a Meleagris gallopavo from the underbrush. As often happens, this wild tom exceeds cartoonish expectations by being quick on the wing, cunning, and beautifully feathered in iridescent bronzes and greens with the hallmark scaled legs and wattle reminiscent of its reptilian ancestors. Its verbal complaint while flying resembles gobbled outrage rather than the silly preschool sound human throats make. Once the tom alights on a ponderosa pine branch, MIGgy takes a victory lap. Wild turkeys protecting their territory can be aggressive. Who can blame them when so many end up on dinner tables? So give the hound a nod.
Why does the turkey cross the logging road? It’s all about food, water, and shelter. Like us, turkeys appreciate the finer things in life. For our local populations that means established ponderosa forests, where turkeys feast upon seeds and fruits along with occasional insects and a chaser of grit—yum! Hens hollow out ground nests in debris at bases of trees and shrubs, but roost on higher limbs due to rapacious coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, mountain lions, raptors, and—yes, us. They’re also one of this nation’s few conservation success stories, returning from populations of 30,000 birds in the early 1900s to over 7,000,000 today. Evidently the idea of facing an empty Thanksgiving platter roused our national fervor to deal with habitat degradation and poaching.
With their dense bone structure, turkey fossil records date back to over 5,000,000 years ago. Undomesticated birds are no more like their meal-on-the-talon version than cows are like fierce and extinct aurochs. Today we incapacitate domesticated turkeys by favoring massive breasts that overbalance the poor beasties—and no, we’re talking meaty breasts versus silicon here. This trend began five hundred years ago, spreading to a global phenomenon when Spaniards made off with turkeys domesticated by Aztecs. The bird’s eponymous name may originate from early transport through Turkey on their way to Europe.
So today, up with turkeys. Yes, call me twitterpated.
What local birds raise your spirits? How do you enhance their habitat?