Saturday, August 8, 2009
I LOVE turkeys. Maybe because of Thanksgiving – turkey decorations mean great kitchen smells and lots of laughter. But how much do I know about real turkeys? Not much.
IT'S TIME for a treasure hunt. That's what I call the hours I spend researching information that I have let remain undiscovered all these years. So here are some fun facts that I learned today.
THE WILD turkey is smaller than the domestic turkey (which has been bred so fat that he tips over),and has red, instead of brown, legs. The small bumps on the head are called caruncles. The appendage that droops over the bill is a snood. A turkey can fly 55 miles an hour and outrun a man. His eyesight zone is 300º (as compared to an owl's 70º), has acute hearing, a poor sense of taste and almost no sense of smell. The turkey has no homing instinct – if taken to a new environment, he just makes it his new home. Grown turkeys roost in trees at night.
THE MALE (tom or gobbler) can change his head colors in seconds – to warn off other males or to signal females for mating. His snood dangles when he is hot, sexually aroused or fighting. He has a beard that juts out from his chest and spurs on his legs. In spring, he mates with as many hens as he can and takes no part in nesting or rearing of the poults. A male less than 2 years old is called a jake.
THE FEMALE (hen) is half the size of a tom, has a bluish head sparsely feathered, has a tiny snood and a few caruncles. Her plumage is controlled by hormones, so if her ovaries should be damaged, she would grow the feathers of a gobbler. Because the hen can sometimes have a beard and spurs, the most reliable way to distinguish them is by head color. Toms have a pink head, the hen's is blue-gray. After mating, the hen becomes a loner. She will lay from 8 to 13 eggs per clutch. After leaving the nest to eat, she will return, taking a different route each time, often flying the last 100 feet, to confuse predators. Poults open their egg with an egg tooth that will fall off in a day or two. This is called pipping. During the 2 days of hatching, the poults imprint on the hen, and get to know all their siblings. After leaving the nest, the hen will often watch her brood from afar, and even feign an injury to gain attention from a possible predator.
A RAFTER (or flock) of turkeys comes in 4 types: hens with their young, hens not successful in hatching poults ( up to 20), adult gobblers (up to 25 birds), and young gobblers that have left the family flock. There is a peck order and rank is achieved by fighting. There is fighting among gobblers, as well as hens; in fall and winter there is also fighting between flocks, in which whole groups participate.
TURKEYS have about 30 different calls. Here's a few:
Gobble – Come to me, mama.
Whippoorwill – Back off buddy.
Rattle call – Fight! Fight!
Alarm putt – Danger. Danger.
Cackle – only used when flying.
Yelp –I'm lost!
Whit-whit – I hear ya- this way.
Predator alarm – Eek! I'm being attacked!
Distress Scream – My babies! My babies! Help!
Pit-pit-pit – Careful- I have a funny feeling.
Peeping (from inside egg) – Look out world- here I come.
Hatching yelp – Mama's here, you're safe.
(Poults learn their mother's individual voice at this point, while in the egg!
They must also imprint when hatched or they will be confused their entire life.)
Lost call – Maaaa-maaaaaa. Where are you?
Singing alarm – Look up! Danger above! (AT which point, all turkeys look up.)
Purring – Y'all still there? Let's keep together.
Tree yelp – Good morning. All here? Let's have a good day.
MY PAINTING is going to be the hatching event. Stay tuned.