Talkin’ Turkey

As I viewed a tom turkey while he fanned out his prodigious feathers and strutted about three females, who appeared to ignore his extravagant gestures, I recalled that wild turkeys are not native to Lake County. These great gobblers, Meleagris gallopavo are, however, native to North America. According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, turkeys were brought into California in the 1870s, the 1920s, 1950s, and again in the 1970s. The turkeys which were imported in the 1970s came from Texas. Since then, the big birds have taken a shining to their adopted homes in Lake County, with estimates of wild turkeys exceeding 240,000 throughout California.

The antics of wild turkeys are extremely entertaining. It appears that they sometimes forget that they can fly as they run across a field. When they do flap their enormous wings to roost for the night upon the lichen-encrusted limb of an oak, their silhouettes are quite picturesque. I enjoy it when they imitate Pig Pen of Snoopy cartoon fame by hunkering down in the dirt for a good old-fashioned dirt bath in order to rid themselves of pests! Turkeys do, at times, make pests of themselves as they have been known to leave ‘calling cards’ (their prodigious scat), roost upon automobiles, and dig up gardens.

Males, or toms boast striking feather colors with iridescent copper coloration, golds and greens. According to Audubon’s website, birds have the molecule called melanin to thank for feather pigments. Audubon further states that colorful flight feathers are not just showy but serve the purpose of withstanding wear and tear, with an added bonus of allowing for more aerodynamics during flight. The tom’s head shows red regions and red wattles or fleshy, hanging ‘caruncles.’ Turkeys have a characteristic ‘snood,’ or flesh-type appendage over the beak. Both the male and female wear dark and white barred wing feathers and dark over-all coloration. Female turkeys or hens weigh on average, 6-12 pounds, while the toms can weigh 11-24 pounds when fully grown.

Wild turkeys thrive in habitat which includes conifer forests, oak woods to fields, marshes, and pastures. Being omnivores, turkeys seek out nuts and seeds, acorns and roots, along with lizards and snakes. Turkeys are sometimes viewed as they feast upon toyon and other berries too. Then, they appear rather ungainly, perching and swaying amongst the toyon shrubs while consuming the crimson berries. Turkeys try and get their fill of toyon berries before other avian species, such as robins fly in, or before coyotes and bears appropriate them.

The turkey hens may lay up to 14 eggs, often one per day, after mating season. The clutch has many predators, so the hen typically does not leave the nest for around a month. It is vital for her to then watch for gopher snakes, skunks, hawks, raccoons and other voracious predators.   

What fun it is to study Lake County’s wild things! The more I learn, the more I want to learn!

To avoid problems which can occur with wild turkeys at your residence,  the Department of Fish and Wildlife states:

If turkeys begin feeding under hanging bird feeders, remove the feeders until the turkeys leave the area.

If turkeys are causing problems in your yard, install motion-detecting sprinklers.

Wild turkeys typically will not enter yards with dogs.

If confronted by a wild turkey that has lost its fear of humans, an open umbrella may help steer it out of your path.

Depredation permits are required to kill wild turkeys that are causing property damage.

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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