Mariton: Turkey memories

December 22, 2021

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

A turkey looking in through the glass door.

A turkey at the glass door. Photo by Tim Burris

While writing the recent blog about turkey populations, I recalled several incidents I’ve had with turkeys over the years.  We renovated the bank barn into the Nature Center at Mariton in 2002.  The natural history part of the building is upstairs and has a lot of glass at the entrance.  I was working in the basement when I heard a heavy thumping above me.  I looked out at the parking lot, and no one was parked, so I thought perhaps it was a passing jet or helicopter.  Then I heard it again.  I went upstairs and there was a tom turkey outside throwing himself against the glass front door.  He had obviously seen his reflection in the glass door and was chest bumping what he perceived to be a rival.  I made noise and rushed to the door and scared him off.  I went back downstairs and it started again.  Over the years both toms and hens would attack their “rivals” in this fashion.  They never got hurt and it usually only lasted for a little while until the sun angle changed which changed the reflection.

A turkey looking at its reflection in a glass door.

Photo by Tim Burris.

We had lots of turkeys at Mariton during the 2000’s.  I would see them at least once a week while working.  Wild turkeys aren’t known for their intelligence; however, they have amazing senses and instincts that protect them.  The sight of a human form usually sends them scurrying for cover.  But they forage loudly when in large flocks and I sometimes saw them before they noticed me.  In those instances, I would stand in front of a tree and observe them feeding.  Eventually, one of the sharp-eyed birds noticed something that wasn’t quite right and gave an alarm putt that would start a race and leave me chuckling.

One day while driving the tractor through one of the meadows, I saw two dozen turkeys ahead of me foraging on the trail.  I figured the noise and size of the tractor would have them running for cover.  But no.  They parted nonchalantly and stepped off the trail as I drove through the flock.  Then they converged again behind the tractor and never stopped feeding.  To them they saw a huge, noisy object, but it didn’t look at all like a human or any other predator in their instinctive mind.  Just to check my theory, I drove past the flock and stopped the tractor.  No reaction.  I got off, and as soon as I stepped away from the tractor the flock busted.

A turkey positioning itself in a tree.

Photo by Marilyn Hessinger.

Finally, one of my coolest and scariest turkey encounters.  I was hunting in a treestand with my longbow.  Sunset and quitting time drew near.  A flock of turkeys flew up to roost for the night.  They were landing in trees all around and above me.  Branches were breaking and falling onto me.  Turkeys fly gracefully for all their size and weight, but roosting in trees is another matter.  It sounded like a cyclone coming through the trees.  Since I was getting down, I moved to let them know I was there.  Of course, I was completely camouflaged, and to them it must have appeared that the tree had suddenly transformed into some unknown beast.  They panicked and more branches rained down on me as they flew away.