Sycamore Grove Farm, Madison County
I clearly recall the first view of a wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) on our farm. We had just moved into the house that we built and were sitting on the back porch when a female turkey rounded the corner and started to walk down toward the woods line at the bottom of the field. She seemed to stagger from side to side, almost like she was drunk. So of course I researched it. Apparently fruit-eating birds including turkeys can over-indulge in berries. While berries are a good source of food, when the fruit starts to rot a bird can get inebriated. According to the Audubon Society, “drunk” birds tend to stagger from side to side, don’t fly as well, and aren’t easily able to avoid obstacles in flight. So maybe that turkey we saw had eaten a few too many very ripe berries. She finally reached the wooded area and that was the last sight of a turkey we had until just recently. We now have 3-5 turkeys that walk out of the woods to the south of our farm, cross the road, and then feed along the margins of our farm.
The turkey is the largest game bird in Virginia. We have friends who are hunters and they have told us our property is ideal for turkeys (we don’t hunt turkeys but like knowing we have the right habitat for them). Their favorite habitat is a mixed-conifer and hardwood forest. The land across the street from us fits the description of their habitat, as does the farm that abuts the back of our acreage. In addition to berries, we also have several large oak trees – and acorns are a favorite food of turkeys. Wild turkeys sleep in trees at night – so they have a choice of the woods across the street and the woods on our farm.
The wild turkey was hunted nearly to extinction by the early 1900s, when the population reached a low of around 30,000 birds. But restoration programs across North America have brought the numbers up to seven million today. Turkeys can run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour and fly as fast as 55 miles per hour. The life span of a wild turkey is 3-5 years.
Birding tip: An organization called Birdwatching Bliss! offers lots of free advice, including how to use binoculars, what are the best bird field guides, available bird apps, and more. You can subscribe to receive information in your inbox each day.
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