Diary of a Wild Turkey

By MDC | November 1, 2023
From Xplor: November/December 2023


November 23 — Hi! I’m Jenny. I’m a wild turkey.

People might think I hate Thanksgiving. But I don’t. How could I hate a holiday that celebrates turkeys? Besides, lots of animals eat turkeys, not just people. You can’t grow up in the wild and not know your place in the food chain.

So what am I thankful for? Acorns! They’re delicious. I use my big feet to scratch through leaves. Then I peck, peck, peck up any acorns I spot. Yum!

Speaking of spotting: Another thing I’m thankful for is my excellent eyesight. I see three times better than a person who has perfect vision. My eyes give me an edge when hunters — human or otherwise — come calling.

Out of Order

December 22 — I’m one of the older hens in our flock. When young birds get too rowdy, I peck them on the head to remind them who’s boss. Youngsters peck each other to sort themselves into groups. That’s why biologists say a turkey community has a “pecking order.”

Today, a bunch of young males left our flock. Some of them were chicks I had raised all summer. They’ve finally grown up and are ready to strike out on their own. With luck, a few might make it to the top of the pecking order and become boss of their own flock.

Close Call

January 24 — Today I was scratching through the snow, searching for grain at the edge of a farmer’s field. All of a sudden, one of the hens in my flock sounded the alarm with a sharp PUTT! My head snapped up just in time to spot a flash of fur as a hungry coyote burst out of the woods.

The flock scattered. I barreled away too, my long legs churning through the snow. On a good day, I can go from zero to 18 miles per hour quicker than you can blink. That’s fast, but it isn’t good enough to outrun a fleet-footed coyote.

I could hear the carnivore’s feet pound the snow behind me. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Closer and closer.

At the last second, I leaped into the air, flapping my wings furiously. As I took flight, I heard the coyote’s jaws snap shut just inches behind my behind.

Whew! That was close!

Talking Turkey

April 5 — Ahh, spring. Such a lovely season.

This morning, a male turkey named Tom caught my eye — or, rather, my ear. I was with a few other hens, pecking at pasture grasses, minding my own business, when I heard a thunderous GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE! from a nearby hillside.

Hmmm, I thought, he sounds interesting.

I called back: Yelp, yelp, yelp.

In no time, Tom joined me in the pasture. He dropped his wings, puffed up his chest, and fanned out his rusty-brown tail like a peacock. Then he started humming and strutting around!

Normally, I pay no attention to showoffs. But ooh-la-la, he looked handsome!

Nest Quest

April 14 — My romance with Tom didn’t last long. In fact, he’s already gone through nearly a dozen other girlfriends! But I’m not bitter. I have more important things to do.

A few days ago, I found a hidden spot in a clump of weeds near the edge of the woods. It seems like a safe, cozy place to start a family. There, I scratched out a shallow nest on the ground and laid a speckled egg.

Each day, I sneak back to the nest. I don’t stay long, just enough time to lay another egg. Before I sneak away again, I use my beak to place leaves over the eggs to keep them safely hidden.

While I’m gone, I snarf down all the bugs and seeds I can find. I must fatten up. Lean times are coming.

Egg Bandits

April 22 — Today, I laid my final egg. There are 13 in the nest. Now it’s time to start incubating them.

Gently, gently, gently, I lower myself down until my chest and belly cuddle against my eggs. Even though each one was laid on a different day, they’ll all hatch at the same time. It’s simply eggstraordinary!

That is, if they make it. Nesting on the ground is risky business. Raccoons, skunks, and snakes are just a few of the egg-eaters who’d love to dine on turkey omelets for breakfast.

Happy Birthday to You and You and You …

May 17 — I’ve had about enough of incubating eggs! For nearly four weeks I’ve been sitting atop them, still as a stone, day and night, in the sun and the rain, always on alert for prowling predators. I use my beak to gently turn each egg, so each side stays toasty. I leave the nest for just minutes a day, barely long enough to grab a quick drink. I’m tired. I’m hungry.

But I hear encouraging sounds. Little cheeps and peeps are coming out of the eggs. I cluck to the chicks inside, so they’ll know who I am once they see me. Soon, my chicks are pecking open their shells, chipping jagged circles around the wide ends of the eggs. It takes a long time! When they finally hatch, they’re damp and exhausted. But in no time, their feathers dry and they’re able to take their first clumsy steps. They’re so fluffy!

Tomorrow we’ll leave this nest. Finally.

Poult Problems

May 25 — My poults (that’s what people call young turkeys) follow me everywhere. I don’t get a moment of me time.

When I peck at bugs, they peck at bugs. When I take a dust bath, they roll in the dirt like happy puppies. When it’s cold or rainy, they snuggle under me to stay warm and dry. And when I spot danger, I give a sharp putt, and the poults scramble under my outstretched wings.

I do my best to keep them safe, but life at this end of the food chain isn’t easy. Owls and hawks circle overhead. Foxes and bobcats lurk in the shadows. The poults can’t fly yet, so they’re easy snacks for hungry predators.

Out of 13 eggs, 11 chicks hatched. Now, only six are left.

Branching Out

June 3 — What a relief! My poults can finally fly.

Turkeys, you might have noticed, are … um … chunky birds. Getting airborne takes effort. So we prefer to run from danger whenever possible. But I must admit, flight is pretty handy for escaping from four-legged hunters. And once we’re airborne, we can hurtle across the sky at over 50 miles per hour. (Coming to a stop is a different story.)

Now, the sun is sinking, and the western sky is blushing rosy red. I’m perched high in a hickory tree. My poults are already fast asleep, spaced out on the branch beside me like knots on a log. Though we spend our days on the ground, at night we feel safest up here.

Since my poults can now roost in trees, we all sleep more soundly.

Flocks Rock

July 4 — A few days ago, two other hens joined their families with mine to form a large flock. I guess you can call us three chicks and some chicks.

Being in a flock has lots of advantages. Of course, there are more eyes to watch out for danger. And we help each other find food when times get lean. Last but not least, being around other turkeys helps our youngsters learn their place in the pecking order.

I have only a few more months to teach my poults how to survive. Then they’ll leave to form flocks and families of their own. Someday, my diary will come to an end. But, with any luck, my youngsters will pick up the story where I left off.

Also In This Issue

Deer in Snow

Critters have tons of tricks to stay alive when temperatures dive

This Issue's Staff

Artist – Matt Byrde
Photographer – Noppadol Paothong
Photographer – David Stonner
Designer – Marci Porter
Designer – Les Fortenberry
Art Director – Cliff White
Editor – Matt Seek
Subscriptions – Marcia Hale
Magazine Manager – Stephanie Thurber