Daily Archives: November 22, 2014

Wild turkeys out of the woods

wild turkey

Those are some big birds.

We see more wild turkeys from late fall through the winter as they come out of the woods to look for easy food. And every year there seem to be more turkeys than the year before.

Presumably these are Eastern Wild Turkeys, a subspecies of Meleagris gallopavo (silvestris).

They number from 5.1 to 5.3 million birds. They were first named ‘forest turkey’ in 1817, and can grow up to 4 ft (1.2 m) tall. The upper tail coverts are tipped with chestnut brown. Males can reach 30 lb (14 kg) in weight. The eastern wild turkey is heavily hunted in the Eastern USA and is the most hunted wild turkey subspecies.

I have never tasted wild turkey, but I would like to someday… and compare the flavor to Meleagris butterballus.

wild turkeys

Impressive wings. They look ungainly, too big to fly, but I have seen them take off high into the trees when my dog ran into the backyard. A bizarre sight.

Good book I recommend, with a chapter on wild turkeys: Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds, by Jim Sterba. From page 160…

… wild turkeys have had the same comeback history as geese and deer, and an even sharper trajectory, going from the edge of extinction in the 1920s to abundance a half century later. Then, just as quickly, they too went from novelties to nuisances. Here was one of the wiliest of wild creatures, one that would in the deep woods flee in an instant at the slightest movement by a hunter otherwise invisible in camouflage, suddenly turning up where people lived in the suburbs like an overgrown robin.

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Here’s a review of the book by Russell Baker writing in the NY Times: Visitors.

During America’s first 250 years, early settlers cleared away some 250 million acres of forest. Yet the forest comes back fast. By the 1950s, one half to two thirds of the landscape was reforested. Most of us now “live in the woods,” Sterba writes. “We are essentially forest dwellers.” The new forests “grew back right under the noses of several generations of Americans. The regrowth began in such fits and starts that most people didn’t see it happening.”

Here is a Thanksgiving-appropriate cocktail from the Wild Turkey bourbon website. Tipple before the feast this Thursday, or save it for a cold night and a good book by the fire.

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Yesterday I was looking up Thanksgiving-themed jokes to tell some kids and found this chestnut…

What did the turkey say to the turkey hunter?

Quack, quack, quack!

Redwings in rain

red-winged blackbird

Red-winged Blackbirds in the cold November rain, last Monday.

In winter Red-winged Blackbirds gather in huge flocks to eat grains with other blackbird species and starlings.

A large flock – maybe 40 birds – visited that morning, taking turns flying from the trees to scrounge fallen seed from the ground under the pole feeder. But a few ventured closer to the house, where a human and a cat watched them through the windows.

blackbirds

We remember them for the red on their wings, but don’t forget the yellow. They are members of the family Icteridae.

Most species have black as a predominant plumage color, often enlivened by yellow, orange or red. The family is extremely varied in size, shape, behavior and coloration. The name, meaning “jaundiced ones” (from the prominent yellow feathers of many species) comes from the Ancient Greek ikteros, through the Latin ictericus. This group includes the New World blackbirds, New World orioles, the bobolink, meadowlarks, grackles, cowbirds, oropendolas and caciques.

Yesterday, waiting at a stop sign across from Optima Bank to turn onto Route 1 in North Hampton, I spotted a mixed group of blackbirds and cowbirds… plus one Yellow-headed Blackbird (very rare in the eastern U.S.) I would have thought my eyes were deceiving me, except I subscribe to the local birder email list and knew people had been seeing this flock around, with an eye-catching male and a couple of females.

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The Blackbird
William Ernest Henley

The nightingale has a lyre of gold,
The lark’s is a clarion call,
And the blackbird plays but a boxwood flute,
But I love him best of all.

For his song is all of the joy of life,
And we in the mad, spring weather,
We two have listened till he sang
Our hearts and lips together.