Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Good to Be Alpha- Wild Turkeys

Recently I had the good fortune to get close to a flock of Wild Turkeys while in the Smoky Mountains. The group consisted of two gobblers and a dozen hens. When the sun plays upon the males at the peak of their breeding coloration, the feathers glisten with colors of copper, gold, scarlet and violet. Add in the colors in the gobblers comb and waddle for a dazzling display meant to impress the hens.

Seeing their line of travel, I picked a position and waited for them to come to me. Luck  favored me, as they came right toward me. My second good fortune was to witness how two competing gobblers settled which was the dominate one.  I'd expected some form of conflict, but it was actually very civil.

The two gobblers displayed more to their rival than to the hens.  The hens were more interested in catching food in the grass.  It became apparent that the male on the right was not able to spread its tail feathers in as complete a fan.

It does take considerable strength to fan out all of the body feathers, plus the tail feathers. Number two was running low, it would seem.  Within minutes, he was more relaxed and could almost be confused with the smaller hens.  He still has the distinctive beard on his breast and colorful feathers, but seemed to be destined to wait for next year.

The alpha gobbler began to display to the hens, while number two went to the edge of the flock near two hens and commenced to feed.  Alpha circulated until he found a single hen settled down in the grasses and not feeding.  He certainly had the energy to continue making a big display.  She was clearly receptive. 

He circled her a few times, stepped upon her back, and then began to "knead" her for about three minutes.

Copulating was brief.  The gobbler quickly resumed displaying to the hens, as the flock continued its path passing me at about 45 feet.

I went back the  next morning and could find no turkeys whatsoever.  That reinforced my feelings of good fortune.

To paraphrase Mel Blanc, "It's good to be  King  Alpha."

Paul Schmitt

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