For the Birds: Turkeys worth a roadside stop

I’ve missed countless photo opportunities while driving because I did not have my camera with me.

This time I was well-armed.

I was driving to work along my usual route when I passed a small, historic cemetery that I have passed hundreds of times before. On this day, I noticed a flock of turkeys among the grave markers as I sped past. I found the nearest safe place to turn around and headed back to the cemetery.

Here’s where my stories usually end with “but they were gone.”

This time, they were all still there.

It is mating season for turkeys, and the male of the flock was strutting his stuff among the rows of memorials. The female turkeys, or hens, were lined up along the stone wall that ran the far edge of the cemetery.

The male, or tom or gobbler, was big and impressive and protective of his flock. He had a big attitude as well as it looked as if he were going to try to take on my truck as I pulled into the cemetery. He took a few steps towards me as I rolled down the window, and he displayed all his impressive feathers and gave me a gobble.

I grabbed a few photos as he strutted around among the grave markers. The females stayed to their side of the cemetery along the wall. As the tom moved around, he put himself in interesting photographic compositions among the grave markers and flags.

The turkey did not approach any closer nor did it go any farther away. That allowed me time to study how interesting a male turkey in the breeding season is. After a few minutes, he got used to the idea of the truck being there and went about his business. Still, on occasion, he would display his feathers and his snood would stand up on top of his head.

I guess now would be a good time to define a few terms about a turkey’s appearance. The wattle is the droopy part that hangs below a turkey’s neck. The snood is the part that typically sags and lies above the top of the bill. The snood can also stand up on top of a turkey’s head when it is agitated or, in the case of males, feeling frisky.

Interestingly, the head of a turkey changes color depending on the mood of the bird. A mostly red head indicates that the bird is agitated or sexually excited. Lighter shades of blue, red and white usually indicate the bird is relaxed.

The daily commute can be monotonous and a drag. But every once in a while nature breaks the routine with an interesting sighting. Will you have your camera ready?

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