It’s an odd feeling when you try to sneak up on a wild turkey, but the turkey just doesn’t care. Yesterday evening I noticed him picking his way through a meadow above the trail, with a casual, self absorbed attitude. As I approached he slowly moved along, keeping about eight feet away.
This lone bird is a “jake” (one year old male) and he’s out looking for love. Apparently he’s seen a bit of the human world already – the neighborhood grapevine reported him wandering down streets and through backyards last week. This being an urban forest, his amorous gobbling yesterday was answered by a family with kids and an Umbrella cockatoo on someone’s shoulder.
Life is frustrating for Jakes; they fight among themselves for dominance, but are relatively expendable in terms of natural selection. Only a few dominant adult gobblers will father broods, and only a few jakes need to survive each year to fill that need. This one may have been chased off by a more dominant bird.
He’d certainly found a nice place to forage, and was plucking chickweed flowers and likely any little critters living amongst them. This lush hillside is literally carpeted with chickweed and bedstraw, a result of cutting the Bush honeysuckle that formerly dominated. Such cut areas are desirable Turkey habitat – brushy with low cover and a fast takeover of weedy herbaceous plants.
Why are there turkeys in a little forest surrounded by the city? Quoting David Curson, director of bird conservation at Audubon Society’s Maryland-D.C. office, “Especially where there are green corridors alongside rivers and streams projecting into the cities and suburbs, turkeys will follow those, and come into built areas.” Beargrass Creek, which wraps around the preserve, is just such a wildlife highway – who knows what will wander in next?