By Clay Christensen
I often get reports from my neighbors about a family of wild turkeys that wander around Lauderdale. “Have you seen the turkeys?” they’ll ask. We chat about when and where they were seen, what they were doing, how many there were in the flock.
This year, my first encounter with a wild turkey was in early April as I walked our dog, Chance, along the border of the Midland Hills Golf Course. We walked, following Chance’s nose, with me watching for burdock plants. Suddenly a turkey flushed a few steps behind us. She must have been hunkered down right along the fence, watched us go by, and then decided to make a break for it. She strolled away through the underbrush, leaving me and Chance open-mouthed.
We saw her in our yard several times. And, then, in mid-May, a male turkey showed up. I only saw him that one time.
Turkey hens incubate their eggs for about 28 days. The chicks fledge in another six to 10 days. Thus, in the fullness of time, on June 24, we were visited by the turkey hen and five poults, or chicks. They returned the next two days, eating Juneberries right off the tree. By the end of June, they were comfortable enough that they were getting up on the patio table, trying to reach more berries.
Sadly, on July 8, I recorded that Mama Turkey had only four chicks with her. Two of them actually made it up into the Juneberry tree, looking a little unsure about how they got there and how they were to get down. I wondered what took that missing chick. It could have been anything from a fox to an automobile.
I don’t think it could have been a cat. My neighbor, Jim, and I were sitting at my patio table when he noticed that the turkey family was approaching from the neighbor’s yard. As we watched them pecking away, a calico cat came around the side of our house, headed to the neighbor’s front steps and watched those yummy turkey chicks just a few feet away.
Mom was having none of it. She started taking her long, determined strides toward the cat. The cat, no fool, turned and exited through the porch railing. The cat would have been no match for Mama Turkey; she wears spiked “heels.”
Before I cut the grass, I walk through the yard picking up sticks and stones, anything that could nick the mower blade. I use a grabber on a short pole so I don’t have to bend over so much. My attention is focused on the task. As I finished the front yard one summer morning, I turned to see if I’d missed anything and there behind me was the hen and her four chicks. They were doing their own pickup routine, unconcerned by my presence. I moved to the porch steps, sat down and watched the family go about its business.
Chance and I have had various encounters with the family on our early morning outings. As we come out the side door, Chance is fixated on getting to the front yard as quickly as possible. One August morning, as we reached the corner of the house, there were the turkeys, now all about the same size as the hen. Barking ensued and I redirected Chance to the back yard.
Another morning, as we walked down the alley, here was the family on both sides; Mom and a poult or two on one side, a couple of poults alone on the other. Chance and I stayed back to let the delinquent kids figure out how to get over to their mother.
Both groups were behind chain-link fences on their respective sides, so it involved some flight action. One youngster got up on the garage roof and then launched across the alley, over the fence on that side, into the yard where Mom was. All were eventually reunited and Mom’s clucking stopped.
In late August, as I headed out for an early-morning birding trip, I came upon the hen and her four youngsters in a yard a block over from our place. My car lights must have startled them because they all gathered tightly together in the alarm pose, necks stretched straight up. They looked like a turkey tipi. If Mom was trying to teach them the high alert posture, they got it.
In September, I found the family relaxing in the back yard. A couple of them had nestled down into the grass, grooming themselves or just dozing in the sunshine. I went discretely to the garage side door, got the tool I was looking for and headed back to the front yard.
I continue to see the family of five nearly daily. I’m interested to see how they do this winter.
Clay Christensen lives and writes in Lauderdale. His book, “The Birdman of Lauderdale,” is available in local bird stores, bookstores and BirdmanBook.com