When I was a preteen (maybe about that age)
my parents sent me off to a Presbyterian church camp, Camp Michaux,
somewhere in mid-Pennsylvania. Part of our weekly stay was one of those
mile-long "hikes" for our health after which the staff fed us hotdogs
for our ill health.
I remember the "cabins" were
no-longer-used World War II barracks built to house enemy prisoners of
war. That's one of the two things I remember about the
The other was on one of those "hikes." As I was
walking along, behind other kids but basically alone because I've never
gone for group activities, something big leaped out of the bushes to my
|What's up? this wild gobbler asked, as I snapped the digital shutter. Milt Gross photo.|
And flew away.
preteen mind realized I had just seen a wild
Now Dolores, the
kitties, and I see a dozen or 20 of them in our yard nearly every day.
Sometimes we see them running, apparently for their lives. We keep
wondering why they don't trip on those long legs and break those long
But despite running and not tripping and all,
these on our yard are not nearly as startling as that first one in
Of course, there was the big male who
challenged me one afternoon for the right to occupy our dooryard. I'd
been putting sunflower seed down for the squirrels, birds, raccoons who
showed up at night, and whoever else might be interested. Big Bird may
have thought I'd be startled.
I had a plastic feed
dish about a foot in diameter in my hand, when the big bird stopped,
fluffed his feathers to scare me, and took a step or to toward
"If you want to fight," said I in defense of my
right to occupy our dooryard, "take on this feed
I held it up for him to
He grumbled, turned, and disappeared into the
woods below the yard.
Nowhere near as dangerous or
frightening as geese I used to encounter when I worked on a farm, as a
teenager. Then my defense was to run into the barn and scramble up a
pile of hay bales.
In Maine, I first learned about
wild turkeys in the mid-1980s while I was a reporter attending a
Norway-Paris Fish and Game Club supper. A Maine Department of Inland
Fish and Wildlife warden spoke that night and clued us into these
strange big birds. They were in southern Maine, he said, but would never
be as far north as South Paris or Norway. The reason, he explained, was
that Maine's climate was too cold for them.
understand two things. Either these turkeys are as dumb as you can get
and haven't figured out that they shouldn't be gathering in fields and
woods in our neck of the Maine woods because our climate is too cold for
them. Or our climate is getting warmer.
I'm not sure
which of the two things is true.
I do know they are a
sporting bird. That doesn't mean they hang out in our yard for sport but
that hunters are allowed to shoot them.
an article from the Sun Sentinel, which I assume is a Florida newspaper
but which appeared in the Bangor Daily News sport section, an
89-year-old Florida hunter, who has seen a charging cape buffalo in some
strange land far away from Maine and flew 35 bomber missions in World
War II, is an avid turkey hunter.
excite him more than hearing the gobble of a wild turkey as he comes in
to your calls," the article stated.
Being a retired
"investigative" (or some kind of) reporter, I'm always interested in
research. So about those turkeys, I've learned from various
1. "The Wild Turkey is North America's
largest upland game bird. Average adult hens weigh between 8 - 12 lb.
and adult toms between 10 - 20 lb., but a large tom can weigh in excess
of 25 lb. Toms sport which are bristle-like feathers that protrude from
the chest and can grow to a length of more than 12 inches on older toms.
Beards may be present on about 10% of the hens; however, they are
thinner and shorter than those of adult males. Heads of gobblers (adult
toms) are generally bare and blue with a hint of pink and red, but
colors can change with the mood of the tom. During mating season , the
gobbler's crown swells and turns white and its wattles become large and
bright red. Heads of hens are somewhat feathered with smaller, darker
feathers extending up from the back of the neck. Legs of toms are longer
than the hens and are equipped with
"Footprints of toms can exceed 6 inches,
whereas hen's footprints rarely exceed 4+ inches. The breast feathers of
hens are buff or brown tipped; the tom's are tipped with a sharp band
of black. Wild Turkey's plumage is more iridescent than domestic
turkeys, and their tail feathers are tipped with brown rather than the
white found on tame birds. Wild Turkeys have keen eyesight, acute
hearing, and are agile fliers, although they often walk or run from
2. "Turkeys can fly up to 60 miles per hour
and a distance of 1 mile. First year birds have dark legs? Game farm
strains of wild turkeys do not survive or reproduce well in the wild,
and they introduce inferior breeding stock into natural populations?" (I
know this is more than one fact, but I'm not good enough in math to
number all the website-learned facts individually.)
"Habitat. Eastern Wild Turkeys generally require large tracts of mature
hardwoods (especially nut producing species such as oak and beech)
interspersed with stands of mature pine. They also require grassy
openings and hay and pasture lands for raising their
Food habits. Turkeys feed on a wide variety of
animal and plant materials such as insects, greens, fruits, berries,
seeds, grains, and nuts. During winter, turkeys feed on bayberry fruits,
sensitive fern spore heads, burdock seeds and other vegetation around
spring-fed brooks and on bare edges of fields. In Maine, turkeys also
depend on dairy farms for food to survive winter. Dairy farms provide
silage corn and manure containing undigested corn that is either spread
on fields or stockpiled for future
Reproduction. Wild Turkeys in Maine breed
during April and May. Dominant toms do most of the breeding. Through
elaborate strutting and gobbling, they try to attract and mate with as
many hens as they can, which may be as many as 12 or more. After
breeding, hens confine themselves to nesting. They construct nests in
shallow depressions on the ground at the base of a tree or stump, under a
tangle of brush, or in dense herbaceous cover. One egg is laid each day
for up to ten to twelve days. Eggs are incubated by the hen from 26 to
28 days before hatching. If left unguarded, eggs are vulnerable to
predators such as crows, skunks, raccoons, and red squirrels, and
incubating hens can fall prey to dogs, coyotes, foxes, raccoons,
bobcats, fisher, and great horned owls. Poults usually leave the nest
the day they are hatched. Hens and their broods frequent field edges and
forest openings in search of insects, which provide protein poults need
for rapid growth during their early development. After 5-6 weeks of
age, young turkeys begin roosting in trees, thus greatly reducing their
vulnerability to predators.
Longevity. Mortality is
greatest and most variable in the early stages of life. Once Wild
Turkeys reach adulthood, they may live as long as 10
Movements. Hens and their poults join other
poults and hens to form flocks of 6 - 25 birds (occasionally up to 50
birds) during late summer, fall, and winter. Adult toms generally remain
loners, but small groups of 2 to 5 toms of mixed ages are commonly seen
throughout the year except breeding season. Feeding turkeys can cover
several miles in a day.
Population and distribution
trends. Historically, wild turkeys existed in significant numbers in
York and Cumberland Counties, and perhaps in lower numbers eastward to
Hancock County. From the time of settlement until 1880, agricultural
practices intensified until farmland comprised about 90% of York and
Cumberland counties. The reduction in forest land and unrestricted
hunting are believed to be the two most important factors leading to the
extirpation of native wild turkeys in Maine in the early 1800s. Since
1880, many farms have been abandoned and the land has reverted back to
forest. By 1970, only 15% of York and Cumberland Counties remained
farmland. This reversion of thousands of acres of farmland to wooded
habitat greatly enhanced prospects for reestablishing turkeys into their
former range." (Boy, these are a fair number of facts and, also, boy, I
wonder what "extirpation" means.)
4. Turkeys were
introduced into southern Maine in 1978 and Waldo County in 1984 -- guess
our DIFW speaker-biologist didn't know about Waldo County and forgot to
tell us they were brought once more into the Pine Tree State by
biologists. Being a semi-believer in evolution within a species, I just
assumed they evolved from big chicken hens or turkeys that escaped from
farms. Also, I learned from a website that their numbers diminished in
places where farms were turned into other uses, because, I guess wild
turkeys also may have evolved from farmers.
|These "wild" turkeys appear daily, sometimes twice daily, in our dooryard or backyard. They come so frequently, our kitties will perch on a raised garden rail or porch rail and calmly watch or ignore them. The turkeys ignore the kitties. Sometimes when I drive into our driveway, a dozen or 15 of them will scatter and disappear in the woods. This group was very hungry and, as you can see, weren't concentrating on smiling at the camera for their picture. Milt Gross photo.|
Maine, you can hunt wild turkeys this spring from April 30 through June
2. In the fall, you can hunt them with bows and arrows from October 6
through October 20 in some wildlife districts and in some others from
September 27 through October 26. In some districts, you can hunt them
with bows and arrows and shotguns (I hope not at the same time) October.
You need an archery license, if you're using a
bow and arrow, a hunting license, and a wild turkey license that you
pay DIFW $20 to obtain and put into your wallet.
learned #5 from among lots of other words on the Maine DIFW website. To
actually hunt them, you'll be wise to go to the DIFW site and read those
other words as well as the paragraphs from which I learned about
There is one other rule of which I'm certain.
Don't hunt them in our dooryard or one of our kitties will get
As you who read this column at least sometimes
already know, I'm not really good at writing turkey, so I'll stop
No wild turkey was injured in the writing of
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012