As my flock of fifty Wild Turkeys hangs around my yard area, I am having more opportunities to observe the behavioral relationships in the flock. When the flock first started appearing under my bird feeders, the gender make up was predominately hens and jakes. A jake is a male that is not sexually mature enough to actively compete with older toms; therefore he spends his time with the hens. The jakes are generally much larger than the hens and may, or may not, show evidence of beard development. One of the hens in my flock has a long beard, which makes her easy to recognize amongst her flock.
Turkey beards are normally exclusive to males, but occasionally a hen will have one, as is the case in my flock. It is interesting when John J. Audubon was traveling around the country painting birds in the 1800s, his painting of a Wild Turkey hen with a number of baby poults shows her having a beard. Could Audubon have been in a hurry to complete the drawing and did not pay close attention to this detail of the turkeys’ anatomy? Or, did one of his collectors make a mistake with the bird they presented to Audubon for painting?
In late January I observed a small flock of a half dozen toms in front of my house while the large flock was in the back yard feeding. It was a cold day and the toms were just standing around looking cold and forlorn. A few days later after the weather warmed up considerably, I heard the old boys sounding off with multiple gobbles in the woods. The next day I was watching the flock scarfing down my hen scratch, when the old boys made their grand appearance and joined the flock.
It was interesting to note that half of the toms began to display as they mingled with the ladies while the other half joined in on the feeding. I assumed the strutting toms were the older birds whose attention was focused on the hens, while the feeding toms’ potential sexual urges were overridden by their hunger. I focused my attention on one of the strutting toms as he was working hard to get the hens’ attention and failing. I noticed that as he was strutting his eyes were focused on the ground. Finally, he could no longer resist the food and began to feed.
A few days later four or five of the toms were focused solely on the ladies, but did not get in the middle of the flock while the feeding frenzy was taking place. They took up a station at the edge of the feeding area and practiced their little dance routines. I assumed the other members of the old boys group was still tuned in on eating. I have noticed the toms stay close together while displaying, presumably to keep a close eye on the competition. This routine could be the turkeys’ rendition of a line dance.
One day I heard something thumping against my house and metal circular stairwell. The noise was created by two toms locked in combat. Their necks were tightly entwined and their bills were interlocked. Locked together, the two toms were trying to shove each other into a wall or tree to gain leverage on the other. It appeared to be a shoving match; however, I was unable to determine how points were won in the conflict. The attached photo shows the interlocking bills and necks as one had the other pinned against a tree. When they saw me taking a photograph, they unlocked and ran off.
I hope that I will get the chance to see round two and try to determine the objectives of the wrestling match. Wrestlers use arm and headlocks to gain an advantage of pinning the opponent to the mat. It appeared the toms were using a neck and bill lock to pin the other against a vertical structure. Stay tuned for further adventures of Wild Hill Country Turkeys. Who said it is was boring to have to live with a bunch of turkeys?