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Turkeys associated with fall, but active in spring

While reveling in the colors and warm temperatures, I’ve been enjoying the sounds of spring as well. Mornings and evenings are especially noisy, as other creatures enjoy spring, too.

In the evenings, a frog chorus performs — the American tree frog quacking and spring peepers peeping. The woodcock chimes in with its beeping call and flight sounds.

The whippoorwill has recently returned for the season, adding to the evening cacophony.

This year and last I’ve heard another type of wildlife neighbor. Early some mornings, before the song birds are up and at it, through my open bedroom window, I hear turkey gobbling echoing through the valley.

I also hear the wild turkeys vocalizing in late afternoon. These must be the times when their routine wanderings take them to the perfect place to amplify their sounds up to my house.

I’ve been seeing flocks of turkeys nearby, especially on the edges of the woods. When luck is with me, I’ve even seen a few tom turkeys strutting, with tail feathers fanned open.

In the past, turkeys were less frequently visible around here, although one fall a young turkey, seemingly wanting to socialize and play, came right up to one of our family working at the wood pile.

From my notably non-scientific observations, it might be that I’m seeing more turkeys in the last few years because their populations have increased. Or maybe it is just that they have moved closer to me for some reason.

Since they are so visible and audible in spring, I began wondering why turkeys are strongly and specifically associated with autumn and Thanksgiving.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, credit for that link goes to literature. Letters and journal entries from Pilgrims mention both meals and wild turkeys, but don’t indicate that they ate turkey at what we consider the first Thanksgiving in 1621 (or that they considered the meal a milestone at the time).

By the 1800s, turkeys were popular for holiday meals. They are large birds and one can feed a family. They were also plentiful, and, as livestock, unlike cows or chickens, their only purpose was meat. Along with Muscovy ducks, turkeys became the only domesticated birds native to North America.

Still, they weren’t synonymous with Thanksgiving until fiction shaped history. Sarah Josepha Hale campaigned to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday in hopes of unifying the country in the face of imminent civil war. An entire chapter in her novel Northwood describes a New England Thanksgiving complete with roasted turkey. Her appealing description became the American tradition.

On my path to learning about Hale’s part in our turkey tradition, I learned more about these majestic birds.

The mixed flocks we see in spring are confined to the breeding season. The rest of the year toms stick together, and hens form their own groups with their poults.

They make at least 28 unique noises, and are arguably quite smart. They have been observed playing with other wildlife. Turkeys can be fast — they can run up to 18 miles per hour, and fly up to 50 miles per hour.

Turkeys roost high up in trees, but females lay their eggs on the ground. Their clutches average around 10-12 eggs. They breed mid-March through late April. Males fan their tails, gobble, puff up and strut to impress females, who approach the males to mate.

I’m charmed seeing the flocks of turkey hens with their chicks in summer, and this spring, by their gobbling. Learning more about these large birds made me enjoy their company all the more.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, previously writing for The Dominion Post. She uses experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Email