Keeping watch on a wild native bird.
By Edie Clark
Oct 21 2016
Turkey Trot | Mary’s FarmPhoto Credit : Illustration by Clare Owen/i2iArt
In recent years, turkeys have been as common as maple leaves around here. After the fields are hayed, they graze on the stubble, moving slowly from one side of the field to the other. In their shape and in their movement, they resemble little dinosaurs, creating a strange leap in time. They seem to be everywhere. When the grass in the hay field is high, it’s disconcerting to see their heads sticking up above the tassels, moving along like shark fins through high seas. There is no indication of a body to go with the bobbing head. But once he (or she) emerges from the ocean of grass, comes the bird many once thought should be our national bird. (The eagle won.)
Habitat loss combined with high demand for turkeys for Thanksgiving platters depleted the population, and the bird disappeared, more or less, from the New England landscape. There was some desire for their feathers to decorate hats as well. This went on until the 1970s when Fish and Wildlife introduced the birds back into our place here. And we have watched them thrive.
We are sometimes treated to very endearing scenes. In the spring, their chicks hatch and the mother hens parade with their young ones. Sometimes there are five or six but other times, they have 14 or 16, a literal retinue that follows the mother on her grazing route. The first year I lived here, I counted her chicks each day, wondering if the abundance of coyotes and fisher cats would diminish her brood. I expected that there would be one or two fewer each morning. But they are not as frail as I might have thought. Or maybe the answer lies in the mother, who can be as mean as a goose if challenged.
Last year’s apple crop was staggering; fruit carpeted the ground—and the turkeys came pecking. I’m used to the deer coming around to graze on the drops, sometimes rising up on their hind legs to reach low-hanging fruit. Often they trot in at night. On moonlit nights, I can see their shapes, heads bent to the ground, enjoying the drops. I can almost hear them, their small mouths working those hard fruits.
But then came the turkeys, lots of them, under the trees, going after the apples. Unlike the deer, the turkeys peck madly at the apples and when they do, the little green apples fly into the air, causing a more or less orgiastic scene of madness and pleasure. One day, I was watching them from the window when I saw two deer moving toward the apples. I was surprised, as they like to have things to themselves. But they kept moving toward the herd of turkeys when, all of a sudden, the turkeys turned on the deer, screeching for all they were worth. And the deer turned tail and ran. The turkeys strutted, pridefully, back to their quarry.
Some years ago, I read an interesting theory that turkeys are the main predators of ticks. Being a Lyme sufferer, and since Lyme Disease is so prevalent in the Northeast, I found this to be exciting news. A single turkey can consume as many as 200 ticks a day, according to one website. The current population of turkeys here in New Hampshire is something like 40,000—quick figuring finds that to be eight million ticks a day. Sounded good for the home team. I wrote a letter to several local papers, urging that turkey season be suspended, at least for a year or two, so that the turkeys might do their work. The response was not what I had expected. Readers retorted with letters suggesting I was trying to take away their guns. I had a hard time following their logic.
Turkey hunting season continues unabated. Everyone seems to still have their guns. And this year, I have a mother with 16 chicks, undiminished.
Edie Clark’s books, including her newest, As Simple As That: Collected Essays, are now available at: edieclark.com