Al Batt: That’s no weather vane; it’s Tula the wild turkey hen

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2024

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

A friend stopped by to tell me there was a turkey on the roof of my house.

Al Batt

I told him it was Tula. My wife named her, but the yard turkey (a wild turkey hen) didn’t care. She was busy chasing rooster pheasants, squirrels, rabbits and crows. Tula flew high into a maple tree to harass the crows that appeared to take it as a game of tag in which they would never be it. They taunted the turkey from a higher branch. Once those tasks were completed, a switch was flipped and the turkey got the zoomies (frenetic random activity periods), a delightful and common behavior exhibited by dogs and cats when they sprint around the yard or house at full speed. In this case, it was a one-turkey stampede. On a chilly day, the turkey preened and used all 5,000-6,000 of her feathers for warmth. She might envy a Canada goose’s 20,000 to 25,000 feathers. When Tula is in a particularly foul fowl mood or a fowl foul mood, she pursues starlings. Wild turkeys weigh 10-30 pounds, depending on whose bathroom scale is used, and can run at speeds up to 25 mph and fly up to 55 mph.

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That reminds me, I need to apologize to the Fuller Brush Man and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who left the yard abruptly because of the guard turkey.

The friend said he’d seen 75 wild turkeys running across the road. I’m glad they weren’t jogging on my roof. A flock of turkeys is called a rafter. Perhaps that collective noun derives from the word “raft,” meaning a large or motley collection of people or other things. Maybe it’s because when early European settlers in America built houses and barns, turkeys perched in the rafters of the unfinished buildings. Or because when turkeys roost in trees, the trees resemble the rafters of a building. Another theory is that the word “rafter” came to imply “stitch together” in Medieval English and was used for groups of turkeys. Male turkeys are called gobblers because of their famed call. Why isn’t a flock of turkeys called a gobble? A gobble brings to mind scenes of gluttony from a Thanksgiving table.

In the fall, turkeys segregate into groups — young males (jakes), yearling gobblers, adult males (toms), family flocks of hens and juveniles, broodless hens, those with Netflix subscriptions and Tula. Turkeys survive the winter by feeding on mosses, buds, seeds, fern spores, acorns, scattered corn left after the harvest, seeds under birdfeeders and in manure piles, and any Fuller Brush Man they can catch. Other than an adequate supply of food, they need a safe place to roost in the winter. They try to perch in trees offering thermal protection — pine or oak trees. If they eat well, they can take the bitter cold. They struggle in deep, powdery snow, which makes foraging for food and escaping predators challenging. They can scratch through 6 inches of fluffy snow and a foot of packed snow. When the ground is covered with powdery snow, flocks congregate in stands of pine and other softwoods, trees that hold snow in the canopy and leave less on the ground for the turkeys to contend with.

Turkeys come from the factory with a snood, wattle, dewlap and caruncles installed. A human’s head, neck and beak age into those things. A male turkey has a beard made of coarse, rough feathers hanging from his chest. The beard is 3 to 4 inches long on a young male and can grow to 10 inches or longer on a turkey at least 3 years old. They rarely shave. A small percentage of female turkeys have beards.

Turkeys are important. If not for them, your brother-in-law would be unable to do the turkey trot while listening to “Turkey in the Straw” after imbibing some Wild Turkey bourbon.

In case Tula is the ghost of Thanksgivings past, I told her I eat only the mashed potatoes, stuffing and pie. In response, she treed a squirrel.

I spoke at a rural church with turkeys roosting on its roof. The pastor asked if I had a way to keep them from doing that. I told him to baptize and confirm the turkeys. Then he’d see them only at Christmas and Easter.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Albert Lea Tribune on Wednesdays.