I often see wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo, Phasianidae) in wooded areas and open fields here in southeast Michigan. Until now I’ve never taken a decent photo of one. Here they tend to be very skittish, running away well before I can get close to them. Usually I’m left with only their tracks.
Things were different when I visited Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky earlier this week. While driving along the park roads I saw perhaps fifty of these birds, and they didn’t seem afraid of cars or people. They were calmly foraging for food along the forest margins. These omnivores will eat seeds, nuts, berries, insects, and even small snakes and amphibians.
Wild turkeys are a great success story of conservation. Subsistence hunting and habitat loss drove these large birds nearly to extinction early in the twentieth century. It’s estimated that only around 30,000 animals lived in North America in the early 1900s. Conservation efforts have since brought their numbers back up to around seven million.
Almost as amazing to me is how NOISY these birds can be. When one is walking nearby while I’m in the woods, I would almost swear a dinosaur is bearing down on me. They crash through the brush making much more racket than a 10-20 pound bird should. At first it seems like their noise would attract predators and harm their numbers. Through much of their range, however, large predators like wolves and cougars have been extirpated by humans. So one possibility is that they don’t need to be quiet to survive. Another possibility I suspect is that the noise is capable of startling predators, scaring them away rather than attracting them to potential prey. I know it definitely startles me.