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Monday, July 30, 2018

What's In My Back Yard

Back yard visitors
     My fenced-in back yard is a fascinating place because behind it is a large woods. And, because of the woods many interesting critters can be seen poking around in the yard despite the fence. Some are welcome, some are not. 
     Most welcome of all is my friend Elvis, a stray cat who hangs out in the woods. But, of late I have become worried for her since recently I sighted a coyote in the woods. 
     Other critters that can be seen are deer who occasionally jump the fence to munch on bushes along the fence, rabbits, squirrels (cute, but unwelcome because they dig), opossums and raccoons. 
     The 'coons have a cute face, but the way the walk all hunched up is downright ugly. Raccoons are quite common and they don’t have the best reputation. They are often known as being mean, aggressive and carriers of the rabies virus.  In fact, many people consider all raccoons to be rabid, and they panic when they notice raccoons hanging around the house. 
     While you certainly would never want to approach a raccoon, having them around your home is not a reason to panic. It’s true that raccoons are referred to as a “rabies vector species” because they are a primary carrier for rabies infections, but according to the Center for Disease Control, only one person has ever died from a raccoon strain of rabies, so the event is highly unlikely to occur. In case of a raccoon encounter, they are more afraid of you than you are of them! 
     Raccoons are not dangerous around the home, but if you see many out and about, there is a good chance they are being attracted to your home for a particular reason, and you don’t want them to make YOUR home THEIR home.
     Still, it’s a good idea to know what to do if you happen to feel threatened. If it LOOKS sick avoid it. If it has discharge coming from the mouth or eyes, wet and matted hair on face, self-inflicted wounds, is wandering erratically, is oblivious to noise or movement or is vocalizing in a high-pitch voice then stay away! Raccoons are commonly active during the day, but it’s rare that they will show aggression toward a human for no reason. It is possible that a mother raccoon will arch her back and growl at someone she fears could pose a threat to her babies, but it’s unlikely that she would chase after them. 

     While a normal raccoon wouldn't attack a person, they will sometimes “bluff” if they feel threatened or cornered. Raccoons may huff, grunt, or “charge” at you, but they're just trying to scare you off so you'll leave them alone. 
     Then there are skunks which definitely not welcome! Birds of all kinds are abundant. Throw some stale bread out and bluejays, sparrows and grackles flock to it. 
     Snakes are common also; mostly garter snakes, but also an occasional black snake. A few years back a bunch of garter snakes inhabited the shed, but they were easily chased off by spreading lime all around. Snakes of Ohio. I also discovered a wasp nest the size of a football hanging in the shed. That was harder, and more dangerous, to get rid of. 
     The newest arrival is a group of wild turkeys that are part of a much larger flock that inhabits the woods. Almost daily a group consisting of three mama birds and six of their babies have become regular visitors. 
     Wild turkeys are large, ground dwelling birds with powerful legs, fan shaped tails, and a red fleshy lobe called a “wattle,” that hangs from their chin. Male turkeys, also called “toms” or “gobblers,” sport a “beard” consisting of a tuft of black filamentous feathers protruding from their breast. 
     Females, also known as “hens,” are smaller than the males, and have less impressive plumage. Nevertheless, I can tell you, the females are what I would consider big! Young male turkeys are called “jakes” and have shorter tail feathers and a shorter beard than the adult males. 
     Turkeys have excellent eyesight, and a keen sense of hearing despite having no external ears. Isn't that amazing! They are relatively fast and can run at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. Turkeys are also short-distance fliers when they need to scramble and can reach speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. A full-grown male turkey will measure up to 4 feet long and may weigh up to 30 pounds. 
     The mating season for turkeys occurs in the months of March and April. Males will attract females by strutting. When they strut, they will fan out their tail feathers while dragging their wings on the ground, throw their head back, and take very quick, rapid steps. Successful males will mate with multiple hens. After mating, hens nest in a small depression they make in the ground, usually surrounded by a dense brush. Females lay 4 to 17 eggs, and will incubate them for a month. Males take no part in incubating the eggs or rearing their young. The newly hatched turkeys, or “poults,” leave the nest within 12 to 24 hours in order to feed. They stay with their mother for a few months after they are born, until they venture out on their own. As the chicks grow, they band into groups composed of several hens and their broods. 
     Winter groups sometimes exceed 200 turkeys. The lifespan of a wild turkey is 3 to 4 years. 

Fun Turkey Facts: 
* A turkey’s diet consists of seeds, nuts, fruit, insects, and small lizards. 
* Turkeys have a wingspan of up to six feet, which makes them the largest bird in their natural habitat of the open forest by far. 
* Turkey calls can be quite loud. On a clear, quiet day, a gobble made by a male turkey can be heard from a mile away. 
* Turkeys have an extremely wide field of vision because their eyes are located on opposite sides of their head. The positioning of their eyes allows the turkey to see objects on both sides of itself, but limits its depth perception. Turkeys have excellent vision during the day, but limited vision at night. 
* Turkeys have no external ear structures, but they have small holes in their head located behind their eyes where sound can enter. Turkeys can pinpoint sounds up to a mile away. 
* Turkeys do not have a strong sense of smell, and the region of their brain that controls smell is very small compared to other animals. 
* Turkeys are usually found in forests, but they may also be found in grasslands and swamps. 
* Wild turkeys were nearly wiped out by hunting in the 1930s, when there were only about 30,000 in the wild. Due to conservation efforts, turkey numbers have rebounded, and are estimated to be more than 7 million today. 
* A turkey has between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers covering its body. 
* Most of the feathers of a turkey are iridescent with varying colors such as red, bronze, gold, and green. 
* Newly hatched turkeys leave the nest within 12 to 24 hours in order to feed. Mothers will feed the hatchlings for a short period before they must fend for themselves. 
* Turkey feathers were used by Native Americans in order to stabilize their arrows. 
* Wild Turkeys are one of the most popular game birds in North America. 
* Turkeys sleep in trees to stay safe from predators at night. 
* When they need to, turkeys can swim by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking. 

     Wild turkeys are found throughout most of the middle and eastern portions of the United States and in limited areas in the west and in Mexico. They walk the forest floors during the day foraging for food. Being an omnivore, a turkey’s diet consists of seeds, berries, nuts, insects, acorns, snails, salamanders, and small snakes. Poults tend to eat a lot of insects. 
     Turkey hunting is a popular sport of many Americans. After obtaining a hunting license and turkey tag, hunters use either a bow or a shotgun (depending on the season) to harvest the bird. Because of a turkey’s keen eyesight, it is important to wear camouflage patterned clothing while in the woods. Hunters often display decoys of wild turkeys in order to attract the birds to the area. Another way to lure turkeys is to use turkey calls. There are over 10 different sounds that can be produced to draw turkeys in. 
     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 wild turkeys from Mexico, where native people had domesticated the birds centuries earlier. 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.


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