Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wild Turkey Drama


I set out to find the flock of wild turkeys and give you an update on their winter. They stayed very near  our farmsteads in GriggsDakota until Thanksgiving. I learned that nature had been cruel to the turkey flock.
Jim had noticed that the turkeys were being chased by migrating bald eagles in the area. Although he didn't witness any successful kills by the eagles, there was a turkey or two missing from our familiar flock. Possibly as a result of the eagles in the area, the turkeys had moved North a few miles. They were unaware that a pair of Great Horned Owls had decided to make their home nearby. Click to see a picture of a great horned owl and read more about owls in North Dakota.
The Great Horned Owl pair has begun nesting. When an owl pair begins their nest, they work as a team and never leave the eggs uncovered. That is why they are able to start their incubation so early in the year despite the winter cold. It is easy to find a suitable spot  that has been abandoned by another bird species that migrates in winter. The scene that witnesses (area farmers) described would indicate that the turkeys were either a perceived threat to the nest or the owls wanted some ready carrion nearby for a quick snack. 
The dead flesh will stay fresh until Spring in our cold outdoor temperatures. However, the stench of rotting flesh seems to be no problem for carnivorous birds. Although debated by avians, the birds in our area seem to have little or no sense of smell. My conclusion is based on a lifetime of bird watching and hunting that has involved hiding and waiting. There has been no indication that a bird could smell me or detect the odor of anything else it is near or ingesting. It is as basic as a cat pouncing on a feathered dinner. "I thought I saw a pussy cat. I thought I heard a pussy cat. I did! I DID!" Tweety must hear or see the trouble before he becomes alarmed. 
Turkeys, according to the stories I've been told, are especially stupid. All birds have, well, tiny little birdbrains. Turkeys must manage their large bodies with one. This has caused domesticated turkeys to drown while looking up at the sky during a rainstorm and suffocate by piling on top of the other when frightened by thunder inside a building. Wild turkeys must manage better than that in order to survive into January, but are routinely outfoxed by predators. Survival is always uncertain in the natural world.
There is a smaller flock of turkeys in GriggsDakota now. Jim, who is out feeding the cattle every day, has seen them. I will continue to watch.

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