Farmer’s Calendar for November 2017

December 2, 2016

Wild Turkeys Go From a Novelty to a Nuisance

Wild turkeys are such a familiar sight now that they are as likely to inspire annoyance as awe. When we see two hens bringing a couple dozen poults across a road—one hen on each side of the crossing, herding the little ones on, gently correcting the slow learners who are bumbling off in the wrong direction—we may honk the horn to hurry them up.

Biologists call such a group a brood flock. A hen lays 10 to 12 eggs, and there’s no evolutionary advantage in an unrelated hen looking after the young. They apparently find some efficiency, or increased safety, or sheer pleasure in combining forces with another mother. Maybe it’s as simple as having one adult on each side of the roads that must be crossed.

In the brood flock that hangs out in our neighborhood, the poults are adult-size now. They likely hatched in June. The two other brood flocks farther up the road have smaller poults, probably mothered by hens that renested in late summer and brought off a second brood.

By winter, the young turkeys will have separated by age and sex into larger flocks, stalking through the snowy woods, leaving four-toed tracks like the dinosaurs that were their ancestors. Watching them now, it seems amazing it took so long to see the resemblance.

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