Bird Lady Blog

August 17, 2017

A Real Turkey of a Life Bird


Wild Turkey

I think most of you who read these birding articles regularly know that a Life Bird is one that you see for the very first time. Most birders have at least one story and usually several about when and where they initially saw a certain species of bird – it is a pretty exciting moment for a birder.  The stories go like this:  “I saw my first Barred Owl at Horicon March in Wisconsin, my first Bald Eagle when golfing at the Victoria Golf Club in Canada, and my first Brown Creeper at my house on Thunderbird in Munds Park.”  Some birders, me included, keep a list of when and where they see birds – called a Life List.  You can keep a Year List, a Big Sit List, a County List – most birding doesn’t have a lot of “rules’ and you can be pretty creative on how you wish to record, if at all, your sightings.

Well, two weeks ago we took our newly-bought, second hand Yamaha Rhino out for a drive up Pinewood Boulevard and then along Forest Road 700 to have a burger at Mountainaire Tavern. We were hoping to find some Elk along the way.  However, the first wildlife sighting we found was a group of Wild Turkeys!  There were seven of them silhouetted in the forest light and they were pretty far off, but not far off enough to not identify them as turkeys without using binoculars.  The only other time I saw a Wild Turkey was on Maui – yes, strangely – and I really didn’t want to count that as a Life Bird, but in some ways I guess it was.  But it certainly was not native to Hawaii.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, there are three types of Wild Turkeys in Arizona: 1) Merriam’s turkey found in the ponderosa pine forests, 2) Gould’s turkey found in the sky islands in Southern Arizona, and 3) Rio Grande turkey introduced again at the Arizona Strip at Black Rock Mountain, in Mohave County.  I most likely saw the Merriam’s turkey, and according to what I read, they were probably hens and young birds, because the toms do not mingle much with the hens except for breeding season.

The hens do not lay their eggs all at once, but when done they begin to incubate and then all the eggs hatch on the same day. The hens cover themselves up with leaves and when leaving the nest, brush the leaves on top of the eggs for camouflage.  Turkeys eat green vegetation, insects, juniper berries, acorns, and pine seeds.

The subspecies Merriam’s turkey was named after Clinton Hart Merriam, who at the early age of 16 was appointed a naturalist with the Hayden Expedition of 1871 and which later contributed to the formation of Yellowstone National Park. My, how times have changed in a little over 100 years!  What 16 year old youngster today is sent out to a new frontier to explore and document mammals and birds?  Those were quite the days for adventure if you were lucky and smart enough to seize the opportunity.  And if you were a male, which was the norm in those days.

Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird. We know this from a letter he wrote to his daughter.  Benjamin Franklin thought the turkey was a bird of courage while the Eagle’s character was not so – he had seen it take away fish from Osprey and therefore considered it lazy, and he watched it being chased by other birds, so he thought it was cowardly.

By the way, we did see several Elk and a Deer on our trip, but I thought the Turkey sighting was the highlight of the trip, followed by the burgers and beers.

 

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