Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Turkeys took over the neighborhood

February 09. 2018 11:28PM
Wild turkeys cross the road along Upper New Hampton Road in New Hampton. (Union Leader File Photo/DAN SEUFERT)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010.

I chuckled while reading the poem that was enclosed in a letter from Joan T. Doran of New London. As background to the poem, I quote from the accompanying letter that read, in part: “We live in a small community of clustered houses that includes dozens of fruit-bearing trees and are surrounded by woods — circumstances that seem to have resulted in our adoption by a flock of turkeys who regularly and very visibly visit our neighborhood. They are becoming quite proprietary. To our amusement, they seem indignant when we, who live here, impede their progress through our yards and across our streets. Especially during the wintertime, we enjoy their presence.”
Now for her poem, “Bunch of Turkeys”:

Dull black, ungainly, see them
tracking arrows through the snow,
on their accustomed rounds,
scavenging for shrunken fruit
and seeds dropped
by some smaller birds.
It would seem impolite
to laugh at sober dignity
of giant fowl with tiny, wary heads,
to ridicule their ordered progress
up the hill and down again,
their startled clatter like some
miniaturized helicopters
flapping up into the trees airily
as if they were their dainty cousins.
After apple dinner, then,
they straighten snaky necks,
extend their stick-like legs
ballet-point their rake-like feet
and rise above the trees before
they melt back into woods.
Though common sense would teach it,
turkeys never seem to realize
such awkward birds can’t fly.
.
An early experience came to mind while reading Mrs. Doran’s poem. Actually it was a remembrance of a visit to Grandfather’s farm sometime in the middle 1920s. I was enchanted by the behavior of his old hens as they walked about their pen. How surprised I was at the hen’s ability to walk and talk at the same time. I’d never seen any other animal do that except humans. Each hen’s footstep was deliberate. Their diminutive heads, secure on attenuated necks, moved forward and back with each frontward step taken. An unruffled, soft sort of sound made up their talk. (Much later I learned it was called “Crakeing.”) Those old biddies voiced no ill will toward their neighbors. I enjoyed their quiet conversations.

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An Epsom reader wrote, “I enjoy your column in the Union Leader. As an avid deer hunter, I often encounter pileated woodpeckers which is always a treat. My question is why do they hoot and holler so when they don’t even know that I am there? Are they just acting like woodpeckers?

“Also of interest, on Friday, Jan. 29, I was shocked to see three eastern bluebirds in East Kingston. Two males and a female. I have seen them before in late fall and early spring, but never in the middle of winter.”

Most of the literature with respect to the voice of the pileated woodpecker suggests, generally speaking, a quiet bird. Arthur Cleveland Bent in his Bulletin 174, U.S. National Museum, wrote, “Throughout the greater part of the year, the pileated woodpecker is a relatively silent bird, but during the mating season drumming and calling are frequent. The usual call is a cackle, resembling that of the flicker, though louder and of more sonorous quality. The ka, ka, ka of the woodpecker’s cackle is variable of quality, in speed of iteration, and in continuity, and seems to be expressive, sometimes of alarm, sometimes of companionship, sometimes of contentment.”

With respect to “winter bluebirds,” the earliest bluebirds reported by our readers in prior years was on Jan. 21, 1994. In checking recent reports during New Hampshire Audubon’s Backyard Winter Bird surveys, we find the following: 119 in 2003; 80 in 2004; 98 in 2005; 79 in 2006; 131 in 2007; 137 in 2008; and 280 in 2009.

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at jlord@unionleader.com.


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