A wild turkey has between 5000 and 6000 feathers, some in striking iridescent gold and bronze. So the next time you want to draw the classic turkey by outlining your hand, you might want to ask a few hundred friends to help.
We here at the edge of the wood are head over heels about the many wild turkey chicks in our midst. Zoologist Konrad Loranz argued way back in 1949 that the typical baby face – big eyes, small noses and heads that are large in comparison to the body – turned adults into happy baby-tending machines. So why does that transfer to animals? Well, it turns out our brains latch on to pretty much anything with the same criteria: big eyes, large heads, small noses, unsure gait. Well, here’s to biological cute. How lucky we all are to have it.
Sadly no, these wild turkey babies, called poults, have no use for the Encyclopedia Britannica but they do imprint on the first thing they see as newborns. We salute naturalist Joe Hutto who became a mom to an orphaned brood of eggs. His fascinating story is here. Who knew bugs could be so nutritious?
Here at the edge of the wood we have never been good at math. No problem because it turns out our animal friends excel beyond our wildest dreams. Pigeons have shown that not only can they count but they can learn abstract rules about numbers, an ability that had been demonstrated only in primates. But all sorts of animals, including bees, can count. Recent studies have uncovered counting skills in different species, suggesting that mathematical abilities could be more fundamental in biology than previously thought. Here we have a fine turkey showing her chicks how to work it out at the blackboard. We should all be so lucky!
How do squirrels climb anything anytime anywhere? Darrin Lunde, a member of the mammalogy department at the American Museum of Natural History was asked by a NYT reader how a squirrel he saw at Yankee Stadium could possibly climb the hard smooth foul ball pole. He replied, “Squirrels find a way; they hug the pole tightly with their foot pads. Squirrels can easily climb down trees headfirst because they can reverse their hind feet to point backward, so they can use their hind claws. Domestic cats cannot do that and thus have trouble climbing down trees.” Well, take that Hello Kitty. This wild turkey seems entranced too.
In the spring a gentleman turkey’s mind turns to finding lady love. As with most in the bird kingdom, the males don exquisite plumage and make a great dancing display to attract that special hen. Sometimes they get into a shoving match with the other males, not unlike the church dance scene in Westside Story but soon things calm down and the flock proceeds to forage for insects and nuts. Want to know more about wild turkeys here on Long Island? Well take a listen to this nature moment from local biologist Mike Bonttini.
Here at the edge of the wood we remember our favorite founding father, scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin. In a letter to his daughter he stated his preference for the wild turkey. He wrote, “I am on this account not displeased (about) a Bald Eagle…. for the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.” We admire the wild turkeys. They are curious, fearless, love a good get together, and have beautiful feathers suitable for any social occasion.
A wild turkey girl made an appearance at the feeder today. The squirrels looked as if Godzilla had come to town. Wild turkeys were reintroduced to the east end of Long Island several years ago. They are elegant and very good parents, as we have seen several broods being ushered across the road by watchful mothers. This one seemed to be attracted to the buttercups and cornflowers.