From our second floor bedroom at 6 a.m. each morning, we carefully pull back the drapes to witness a crowd hanging out beneath our window. A flock of about 15 eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallapavo sylvestris) appear at dawn from the nearby woods and gather beneath crab apple and oak trees where retreating snow has uncovered fruit and nuts. The hens get right down to breakfast but the males aren’t at all interested in food. They’re trying to look their best to make themselves more attractive to the females. Yes, we’re right in the middle of mating season.
From late March through April, the mating season for turkeys takes place. Tail feathers fanned, iridescent feathers puffed out around the body, head flushed with color, the toms slowly strut in a courtship display dragging their wing tips along the ground around the seemingly disinterested, hungry females.
So far these wild male turkeys seem to tolerate one another very well but aggression could mount between the toms in competition for hens. The males have spurs, bony spikes up to 2″ in length, that they use for defense and to establish dominance. We’ve seen none of that so far.
The tail feathers of an adult male turkey are all the same length. The two juvenile ‘jakes’ below display a fan with longer feathers in the center. Both practiced their struts and puffing but probably won’t attract a mate this season.
We all know the turkey population has rebounded from near extinction from over hunting and loss of habitat. In the mid-1800’s, New Hampshire had no turkeys at all. A small number was reintroduced to the state in 1975 and the birds have thrived. Current numbers of wild turkeys in New Hampshire are estimated at 40,000 and total estimate puts the turkey at 7 million birds nationwide. We’re just happy to have our little flock that we’ve watched mature from last summer return regularly to entertain us at our house.