This is a new one for me: wild turkey mating season.
Well, I guess they qualify as “wild.” Nobody keeps them, and they wander around free. But where they mostly like to wander around free is on this property. Not like the turkeys at the Old Place, who’d only warily pass through now and again, making it pretty clear they wanted nothing to do with humans.
These turkeys don’t care. It’s like they’re not really even aware of humans: humans, to them, are like rocks, or garbage cans. For instance, these turkeys fly up onto the deck and perch on the railings whenever they feel like it. This generally causes a cat stampede: the cats know these creatures are birds, but they are just far too big—none of these people could possibly fit in an oven—and that triggers in the cat mind Fear, which in turn results in Running.
The exception is the young’un cat. He spent all winter trailing around after these turkeys. Much of the day he’s down there below the house, tracking them, watching them; I think he’d like to join up, as they maunder through the brush, about their turkey business.
Yesterday, though, he spent much of the day inside. He was kind of depressed. Because things just weren’t the same out there. The turkeys, he’d concluded, had Gone Weird.
That they had.
About a week ago I heard sounds of distress emanating from somewhere south down the canyon. It sounded like a chihuahua with laryngitis confronted with a Menace.
Ye gods, I thought, not only is the poor wretched creature a chihuahua, but its vocal chords are shot, and something is after it. I braced myself for a sudden cut-off of the cries, marking the moment when the Menace succeeded in its mission. But such a cut-off never came. The plaintive cries just kept on a-comin’. So I decided this chihuahua was simply one of those dogs who barks for No Reason. And that is why he had laryngitis—brought it on himself.
A couple days later I hear the same sound, this time coming from up north in the canyon. Poor bugger, I thought: he’s lost. A chihuahua, with laryngitis, unmoored from his people. I hoped that a search party had been dispatched, and that the story would end happily.
Then yesterday I’m sitting here, wondering what to eschew for Lent, when I hear it again, this time sounding from quite close. I get up from the chair thinking: okay, I hope scooping up this fellow and returning him to his clan doesn’t prove too much of an ordeal. I go out on the deck, but there is no chihuahua with laryngitis down the slope. Instead, there is a female turkey, standing on a slight rise, with about a dozen males arrayed below her, slowly milling around. She’s deep into this chihuahua-with-laryngitis thing, but the males don’t seem perturbed by it, so I figure everything is okay with these people. Just some demented call the women need to get out of their system from time to time.
Then I notice that the males have erected their tail feathers, and are dragging their wings in the dirt. And their heads and necks are involved in this peculiar kaleidoscope thing, shifting around in red, white, and blue.
What is this, I wondered? Some fowl imitation of teabaggers gone wild at a Glenn Beck rally?
Then—slow, me—I get it. This is about fucking.
Apparently, sex in the wild turkey world involves men milling around, flashing their colors, as the woman embarks on a sort of endless auction chant. Until, presumably, at some point she announces the winner(s), and they go off into the bushes together.
This woman kept the auction going for what seemed like an hour. Now, I have no objection to sexual congress, among any animal, vegetable, or mineral. And I understand that such things sometimes involve a fair amount of noise. But this noise was not ending.
And this, I realized, with something approaching both wonder and dread, is just the courtship. What sort of racket will these people make when they actually get to it? And how long will it go on?
I was tempted to follow myself, to satisfy my naturalist and voyeur impulses. But they were headed towards the realm of the bear dens, and those folks are, I’m pretty sure, still sleeping. And when those bears do rumble out of slumber, they’re going to be hungry, cross, and barely awake. And in my life I have learned to give a wide berth to any creature hungry, cross, and barely awake. Unless I have something to offer that can ameliorate one or more of those conditions. And I don’t know that I have much to offer a bear stirring out of hibernation.
I later learned from the tubes that even people who make their living in examining the whys and wherefores of turkeys getting jiggy with it, rarely succeed in observing the thing itself: it is demurely described as “an activity hard to see in the brush.”
I also discovered that the chihuahua-with-laryngitis noise is defined as a “yelp,” which I guess describes it pretty well. But it also says here that this sound is emitted “to let males know their location.” So I guess that means these turkeys, like a lot of the folks around this joint, have vision problems. Because this woman and those men were less than five feet away from each other during the entire opera. So somebody is not seeing real well.
I am now attempting to school myself in wild turkey vision. I’ll let you know what I learn.