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.”

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For the Birds: Did Ben Franklin really want the turkey as the national symbol?

photo by Chris Bosak
photo by Chris Bosak

With Thanksgiving upon us, I am going to revisit my turkey fun facts column. I used to do this annually, but the content got staler than week-old stuffing. To add a little spice to this year’s column, I will start out by debunking a widely held belief about America’s favorite game bird.

If you do a web search for “turkey fun facts,” invariably the “fact” that Ben Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be our national bird instead of the bald eagle will come up. In full disclosure, an old column of mine may come up in that search as I’ve used it as fact before in my own writing. But is that really a fact? Evidently, no. I’m not a historian and I certainly wasn’t around in the 1700s to verify it myself, but I’ve come across several accounts that challenge the notion that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national symbol.

According to the articles, he actually wanted a Biblical scene to be our national symbol, not a bird at all. He did reference the bald eagle and wild turkey in some of his correspondences, but the references had nothing to do with our national symbol and some of the references were believed to be Continue reading

Yet even more from northern New Hampshire

Photo by Chris Bosak An ebony jewelwing perches on a pine bough in northern New Hampshire, July 2020.

Here are a few more photos of my trip to northern New Hampshire (Pittsburg and Lake Umbagog). Yes, there will probably be yet another post or two coming up …

Photo by Chris Bosak A female common yellowthroat perches on a branch in northern New Hampshire, July 2020.

As I had mentioned in previous posts, I have been going up to visit the Great North Woods for nearly 30 years now and I’ve never seen so many turkeys as I did on this trip. They were Continue reading

NSFW bird photos

Gino Farina of Jaffrey Center, NH, caught these wild turkeys at the right moment, spring 2019.

I’ve never happened across copulating turkeys and until this spring I had never been sent photos of turkeys copulating. That changed earlier this month when, in the span of a few days, I received two such photos. Thanks to Wayne Snelley of Pepperell, Massachusetts, and Gino Farina of Jeffrey Center, N.H., for taking these excellent shots and sending them to me.

The future of turkeys seems safe for now. (NSFW means Not Safe For Work for those not fluent in Internet speak.)

For more photos submitted by readers from throughout New England, click here, or click on the Reader Submitted Photos link from the menu above.

Wayne Snelley got this shot of copulating wild turkeys in his yard in Pepperell, Massachusetts.

Here are those turkeys

Photo by Chris Bosak A flock of wild turkeys run into a field in Berlin, N.Y., February 2019.

I alluded to these guys and gals during my barred owl posting a few days ago. Here they are in photos.

For context, here’s what a wrote a few days ago”

“I turned the car around to get another look, but the owl was no longer there, even though I had seen it about one minute before. I drove past the spot and turned onto the next side road to get turned around again. It looked as if the road would lead to a few farms. The largest flock of turkeys I’ve ever seen was gathered in a field alongside the road. The turkeys, about 40-50 of them, seemed fairly wary so I didn’t linger long.”

Photo by Chris Bosak A flock of wild turkeys run into a field in Berlin, N.Y., February 2019.

For the Birds: It’s turkey time

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak Wild Turkey in New England, Jan. 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Wild Turkey in New England, Jan. 2013.

Somehow, it’s time for Thanksgiving already. It feels like yesterday that we were welcoming 2017 — by the way, how did those resolutions turn out?

And here we are at turkey time.

Speaking of turkey time, as I often do at this time of year, I will focus this column on the wild turkey.

Thanks to the work of fish and wildlife departments from several states, the wild turkey is a fairly common sighting throughout New England again. The native bird was abundant throughout New England when the first settlers arrived, but the forests were cleared for farming and the turkey was extirpated from the region in the 1800s.

After a few failed attempts, reintroduction programs in the 1970s and 1990s successfully brought the bird back to New England. The wild turkey again thrives in our region.

I have seen turkeys a few hundred feet from Long Island Sound at a park in southern Connecticut, and I have seen them on camping trips to Pittsburg, N.H., near the Canadian border. They are abundant everywhere in between, too.

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Turkey facts for Thanksgiving

The text below has been shamelessly stolen from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Refuge System press release — but, hey, that’s why they send press releases, right? The photo, however, is mine.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Photo by Chris Bosak Wild Turkey in New England, Jan. 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Wild Turkey in New England, Jan. 2013.

Eight Wild Facts about Wild Turkeys
#6. That Funny-Looking Bird is Faster Than You

So you thought there was nothing to know about turkeys except whether you liked drumsticks or white meat. Think again.

  1. Enough with gobble, gobble. Turkeys also cluck and purr
  2. Turkey droppings tell a bird’s sex and age. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral-shaped. The larger the diameter, the older the bird.
  3. Feather-hanger: An adult turkey has 5,000 to 6,000 feathers – count them! – on its body.
  4. Tom turkeys aren’t the only ones that swagger and fan their tail feathers to woo mates and ward off rivals. Some hens strut, too.
  5. Crunchy treats. Young turkeys – poults – scarf down insects like candy. They develop more of a taste for plants after they’re four weeks old.
  6. They may look off-kilter – tilting their heads and staring at the sky –yet but they’re fast. Turkeys can clock more than 12 miles per hour.
  7. Move over, American bald eagle. Ben Franklin called the wild turkey a “bird of courage” and thought it would make a better national symbol.
  8. Wild turkeys are not hard to find. National wildlife refuges are great places to look —while you enjoy a stroll in nature and emerge looking less like a butterball yourself. Here are some favorite turkey hideouts:

St Marks National Wildlife Refuge
To boost your chances of seeing turkeys, get out of your car and walk. “Turkeys are sensitive to the movement of vehicles,” says Ranger David Moody. Wearing camo colors might help, too. The refuge permits bow hunting the first two weeks in November. Then it closes to hunting until December 13. Almost 50 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail go through the refuge. Turkeys like the open terrain of the longleaf pine sandhill ecosystem along the trail. $5 entrance fee.

Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
Look for turkeys along 50 miles of gravel road, including five-mile-long Wildlife Drive.  You might also see them off Round Oak Juliette Road, a scenic (and paved) byway. Or try one of the refuge’s five hiking trails. No entrance fee. (Note: the refuge is closed for a deer hunt Saturday, Nov. 22.)

Wild Turkey Trail — Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
Easy to moderate 1.7- mile trail leads through woods and offers a fine chance of seeing wild turkeys. For more of a challenge, take the connecting 2.2-mile Rocky Bluff Trail. Entrance fee: $2 per vehicle.

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Several short foot trails give you a chance to glimpse wild turkeys. You might also spy some along Wildlife Drive. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle.

Hillside Trail and Long Meadow Lake Trail— Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
From the Bloomington visitor center, the half-mile Hillside trail connects to the Long Meadow Lake Trail. Follow it around the floodplain wetland, keeping your eyes out for wild turkeys. No entrance fee.

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge has a “healthy population” of the skittish wild birds, says deputy manager Greg Dehmer. Look for them along 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive, two refuge hiking trails, and in prairie fields beside county roads that run through the refuge. No entrance fee.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
The North Auto Tour Loop is a good place to spot some of the hundreds of Rio Grande turkeys found here. An even better place is the Intermittent Auto Tour Road, open Thanksgiving weekend from noon Nov. 28, through noon Dec. 1. (The route will also be open Dec. 26-29 and Jan. 16-19, 2015.) Or try your luck on any of nine refuge foot trails. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle.

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge  
Feeder Road takes you on a scenic 3.5-mile drive into the refuge, passing fields and grasslands that are favorite turkey hangouts. Double back to exit. Hikers can walk the road or sample five other hiking trails. No entrance fee.

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
The 9-mile Wildlife Drive passes many woods and fields where you might spot turkeys, especially in mornings and late afternoons. Or lose the wheels and walk any of seven hiking trails along the drive. No entrance fee.

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
Look out for wild turkeys crossing Refuge Road as you drive in the main entrance. Pick from five refuge hiking trails: Raasch Trail is a good bet for seeing wild turkeys. There’s also a Wildlife Drive of about three miles. No entrance fee.

Refuge trails are open sunrise to sunset daily, even on Thanksgiving Day when refuge visitor centers will be closed.  Free trail maps are available outside the visitor center or at a refuge entrance kiosk. For details on Refuge System trails, visit