Turkeys take a liking to town, offer photo session

Turkeys take a liking to town, offer photo session
John C. Lorson

In a moment that could have quickly earned the pair the nickname of Bonnie and Clyde, Tom Turkey caught a glimpse of himself in the door of the sheriff’s car and squared off to meet his rival. Luckily his date, Henrietta, reminded him that cock fighting is strictly prohibited in Ohio, and he backed off before throwing a punch.


Back around Thanksgiving I wrote an entire column about the wild turkey and the superior sensory adaptations that have made the bird darn near impossible for me to get a decent photograph over the years. Events of a few recent mornings in Fredericksburg suggest I may have been looking for my shot in all the wrong places.

Want a close-up picture of a wild turkey? You might do best to go back to school — Fredericksburg Elementary to be specific. Wily and elusive as the wild turkey may be in the hinterlands of Wayne and Holmes counties, there seems to be a small population in the Fredericksburg area intent on taking a stab at city — or at least village — life.

Rolling past the parking lot of the school one morning last week, I couldn’t help but notice a child-sized bird on top of one of the many vehicles parked for the day by members of the school staff. The sheriff’s deputy on patrol of the neighborhood noticed the same, and we swung into the lot at about the same time.

It was from the deputy I learned a rogue squad of wild turkey had taken to roaming the streets of the Southern Wayne County village in recent days. The bird I’d spotted on top of the SUV was one of a pair: a young tom and a hen who seemed to have taken a shine to one another.

Pair bonding is not a thing in the turkey world. Every spring is pretty much a free-for-all with the biggest, boldest and most attractive boy in the woods winning the heart (and consequently fathering the progeny) of any hen willing to put up with his attitude for a few short moments. That’s pretty much the length of the relationship. Momma turkey is left to do the whole job of incubating the eggs and rearing the young.

It’s possible the pair of turkeys we were watching were actually from the same family unit or even the same brood. Incubation is done in solitude with hens well-hidden on the forest floor, leaving for only moments a day to scratch for food nearby. Despite the fact a hen lays only one egg per day and may take up to two weeks to fill her clutch with 10-14 eggs, the young poults hatch within hours of each other and are immediately mobile. Hen-led family groups flock together for safety once the hatch is through.

With both of these turkeys appearing young, it could very well be that they are just a vestige of a larger flock that had taken to hanging out together. The male, like those of many species, was probably just beginning to feel his oats and exhibit masculine behaviors — like puffing himself up at his own “rival” reflection and vocalizing from a superior position (in this case the top of a shiny black Ford).

The hen was probably just hanging out for no other reason than the instinctive draw of “safety in numbers.”

The pair’s inhibitions with regard to humans, cars, shouting schoolchildren and even yapping dogs had likely been relaxed by the fact that nothing had really threatened them while they were living on the forested periphery of the village. This type of acclimatization behavior is often documented outside of wilderness areas where man and animal share the same space. Whatever their motivation, these young birds certainly made for an interesting couple of days in the school parking lot.

In other news, I received a reader’s comment the other day that caused me to smack myself upside the head. Brian from Fredericksburg wrote, “You might get more interaction from your Amish reader base if you include a snail mail address.”

Shame on me for not having thought of this in the 13 years I’ve worked and written in Holmes County. Sometimes I’m just too wrapped up in the details to recognize the obvious. Be that as it may, I’ve immediately taken action and can now proudly claim a mailing address in my favorite village on the planet. Find it below and write often. I’ll be looking forward to your letters. (And thank you Brian.)

Remember, if you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email jlorson@alonovus.com.

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