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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Turkey Behavior

Turkey fight!
     There are a lot of wild turkeys in our area. They are fascinating birds. Adult male turkeys are called toms and females are called hens. Very young birds are poults and adolescents are called jakes. A group of turkeys have many different names: crop, dole, gang, posse, and raffle. 

Turkey facts:

1) The wild turkey’s bald head can change color in seconds with excitement or emotion. The birds’ heads can be red, (pink) white or blue. 
2) gobbles can be heard a mile or more away 
3) they are fast on their feet with a top running speed of about 25 miles per hour or about the same as a human track star. 
4) turkeys have been known to lay as many as 18 eggs 
5) poults are up, out of the nest and walking around searching for food within 24 hours after hatching 
6) wild turkeys sleep in trees. 
7) they are usually seen walking so many people are surprised they even fly. 
8) they only fly for short distances and hit about 55 miles per hour when going full tilt. 
9) tom turkeys show courting behaviors much like the peacock with displays of their tails. Males also use other of their birdlike “junk” to attract hens including a bright snood on top of their beaks and a wiggling wattle under their beaks. 
10) in 1947 President Harry Truman in 1947 pardoned a turkey. Now an annual tradition, two turkeys (one for the President and one for the Vice President) are spared each Thanksgiving. In looking into where these spared birds end up, it turns out that some have been taken to Frying Pan Farm Park in northern Virginia and more recently they have gone to Washington’s Mount Vernon. The domesticated birds are not in terrific health so the spared birds usually die of natural causes in a year or so. It seems turkeys have particularly weak hearts. 
11) a turkey’s gender can be determined from its droppings–males produce spiral-shaped poop and females’ poop is shaped like the letter J. 

     Tom turkey fights, which usually happen just before breeding season, are violent. The fight for Alpha status between them is a brutal winner take all contest. The challenge begins with two males twittering, their version of snarling, at each other, their faces turn red, their heads lowered and wings flexed. Then begins the wing punching where they punch each other with the forward edge of their wings. This escalates into grappling like two Sumo wrestlers and they use their beaks to grab their any fleshy part of their opponent's face while shoving, chest pushing and twisting their opponent's head. The fight can go on for days with the exhausted birds only ceasing the fight at sundown and they move into a tree for the night, the battle resumes at dawn and lasts until one of the combatants finally gives up. Both male and female turkeys get aggressive towards new turkeys introduced to the flock, but once the pecking order is established they always adjust. 
     Turkeys will also defend their territory from wild birds, raccoons, cats and small dogs and even strange people. Like teenage humans, "teenage" turkeys sometimes cause problems with unruly behavior, including attacks. On rare occasions and for unknown reasons a male turkey may defend his harem against people. They attack with their wings and kick with their feet. 
     Like most wild animals, it's not a good idea to feed wild turkeys. Turkeys survive very well on natural foods and if they become accustomed to humans and human-associated foods are likely to lose their fear of people and cause problems. 
     They can be attracted to seeds spilled from bird feeders which has the same effect as deliberately feeding them. Clean up spilled bird seed if wild turkeys are around. If wild turkeys will become conditioned to human foods and people, they are likely to cause damage or to attempt to dominate people. 
     Remember, if wild turkeys show up, don't be a sissy, act bold or they will try to dominate you! Turkeys are not territorial and don't defend an area against other turkeys of the same sex. Territorial birds cannot discern individuals, but respond to certain visual cues. On the other hand, birds with a pecking order actually recognize and remember specific individuals to know their place, and that of others, in the hierarchy. 
     Domestic turkeys which have formed a social and mental bond with humans upon birth recognize and respond to people by both voice and appearance. They will also assign a sex to people, based upon the bird's perception of the human's behavior rather than their actual sex and behave towards that person accordingly. The same thing can happen with wild turkeys that have become used to people. They will incorporate familiar individuals into their pecking order and treat them accordingly. What that means is if they view an individual person as dominant the turkeys will be deferential or fearful, but if they see the human as subordinate, they won't hesitate to adapt bullying tactics. If the human is perceived as a male, then the adult gobblers may decide to pick a fight just as they would against another male turkey. The best defense against aggressive turkeys is to prevent the birds from becoming used to people in the first place. 
     Turkeys do not recognize their own image so respond to a reflection the same as they would an intruding turkey. They will fight anything in which they can see their own reflection and will often remember what the perceive as an intruder and return to the same spot and continue the behavior even if repeatedly chased off. 
     For some unknown reason, some wild turkeys, especially in spring and early summer, choose to stand, walk, or pace back-and-forth in the center of highway. They are usually juvenile males that are not easily dispersed; they may have to be forcibly removed.

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