Monday, April 20, 2009


Across much of the country, the woods and forests now echo with the booming gobble-gobble-gobble of the male wild turkey.

Late April marks the peak of the gobbling season for turkeys. Male turkeys gobble and strut to attract females, much as sage grouse strut and snipe winnow.

At the peak of their gobbling--often just before the breeding season begins--male turkeys are extremely aggressive. They will respond to any loud noise. My parents reported one gobbling to a barking dog. A hooting owl, calling crows, thunder or even the slam of a car door can all set off a loud gobbling bout in a turkey.

At one point, turkeys had disappeared over much of the country. In a tremendous conservation success, thanks in large part to hunters, turkeys have now been restored to their historic range. And beyond: Turkeys were not historically found in Idaho but now live in many parts of the state. A century ago, about 100,00o turkeys roamed the continent; today that number is 4.5 million.

Turkeys now may be taken for granted by conservationists. But they are tremendously interesting birds to watch, especially in the spring. They have a variety of calls (listen), and males often strut and fight in the presence of hens.

If you're interested in learning more about turkeys, read Joe Hutto's excellent book, Illumination in the Flatwoods. Hutto, a biologist, raises a flock of wild turkeys and then lives among them to learn more about turkey behavior.

Where to see wild turkeys: Turkeys can be hard to locate in the expansive forests of Idaho. The Conservancy's Ball Creek Ranch Preserve and Garden Creek Preserve are both reliable places to see turkeys. Visit at this time of year and you're likely to hear them gobbling. --Matt Miller

Photo by Sasha Kopf through a Creative Commons license

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