October 16, 2021
Column

Turkeys flourishing in Maine once again

Wild turkeys are amusing to watch if they come to visit occasionally – in small numbers. In summer, the females constantly make a soft “keouk-keouk-keouk” to their many young. When they cross the road, they usually go single file, and sometimes an adult turkey stands in the road as the young cross – as though they have a crossing guard.

When they go though the fields at the Fields Pond Audubon Center, they move through as in a parade. They look so big that, to me, they suggest a herd of bison in the West!

Wild turkeys occasionally come to visit in winter. Then, they pluck the spore cases of sensitive ferns. Those stems often protrude above the snow. Then the turkeys hop onto crabapple trees near the building. It’s fun to see them open their mouths and snatch the fruit with their short, down-curved bills. Their gizzards must make it into applesauce.

The staple of the wild turkey’s diet in fall is acorns and beechnuts. Both have hard shells. Imagine swallowing acorns whole!

Turkeys ingest grit – coarse sand and small pebbles – to help digest acorns.

Those who cook a turkey for dinner are familiar with the turkey’s gizzard. When the turkey eats, the food goes into its glandular stomach for the start of chemical breakdown. Then the food goes into the gizzard, aka the muscular stomach, which has thick, hard ridges on the inside. These hard ridges and grit work together within the gizzard to process the acorns.

Wild turkeys also eat seeds, berries, buds, grass, insects and small frogs, salamanders and snakes. They find most of their food by scratching on the ground with their long, strong feet and claws.

The males have spurs on the backs of their legs for fighting rivals in spring. They have black body feathers with iridescent green and bronze highlights. In spring the males display to females by puffing up their appearance and fanning out their tails. It works – when ready, the female crouches in front of the male, and they mate.

Turkeys were extirpated from Maine in the 1800s, but the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife re-introduced wild turkeys in Maine in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, because of the department’s ongoing efforts, turkeys are flourishing.

Happy Thanksgiving.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.


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