Jul 4, 2013

Turkey poults in Morgan Hill

Photo by Kevin Cole.

This morning we received a call from a family in rural Morgan Hill. Earlier, they had inadvertently startled a female turkey and her young that had been walking across their front lawn. Reacting to their mother's alarm call, the poults scattered.

According to the RP, two of them split off in separate directions and took cover in shrubbery, and six or seven slipped under the side gate and into the backyard.

The hen kept up with the peeping poults, following them into the yard. She stayed close, nervously patrolling, ready to fend off predators while seemingly trying to calculate an escape for her wee ones.

Duane was on scene within 40 minutes. Here is his account:

When I got there, the family had most of the poults confined to a corner of the yard. They were hunkered down on leaf matter in the shade of a bushy tree.
Since it was the Fourth of July and there was a fair bit of activity in the neighborhood, I wanted to get them away from the houses. I felt this would be better than letting them out directly onto the street.
As I approached the corner where the babies were corralled, the hen flew onto the fence right above me. She watched intently as I gathered her little ones into a pet carrier.  
Wild turkey poults are lightening-fast - lightening-poults! Two slipped by me. One went in one direction, the other headed down the fence line.  
While I was collecting the escapee to my left, the hen began escorting the other poult away from danger, leading it to the farthest corner. There, it found a hole in the wooden fence and squeezed through into a neighboring yard, where it quickly sought cover.
With the hen becoming increasingly agitated, I thought it best to reunite her with those I'd already collected. We'd come back for the lost ones.
I took one of the poults in hand so it would make a loud distress call. This quickly got the mother's attention. I walked to the front of the house. She followed, flying to the rooftop where she watched me cross the street to an open field.  
Following the sound of her chicks, she crossed the road and approached the crate. I tipped the carrier and released all of the poults at once. At first, they scattered, but quickly regrouped at their mother's side. I then went back to look for the missing ones. 
When I entered the backyard, I heard a peep. Then silence. A couple more peeps, then quiet again. It sounded like it was coming from the corner where I'd collected the babies. I decided to sift through the leaf matter, and when I got down about 4", out shot another fuzzy poult!
I needed to get it back to the hen, quickly. I knew where she was. She had taken refuge in the shade of some trees next to an old wooden shed. 
Instead of walking up on her, I used the truck to get close. I parked on the shoulder of the road, about 40' from where she was bedded down with her brood. With the poult in hand, I got out of the truck and positioned myself at the front where my frame was hidden, but where I could see through the windshield.
The poult's distress calls drew the hen from the bushes. As she approached the truck, I placed the baby on the ground, facing her, but the baby turned and ran for cover - under the truck! It's mom was right there, though. She quickly collected her baby and guided it into the shade.
Later in the afternoon, Rebecca went back to the location to scout for the remaining poults. Here is her account.
It was about 4:30 in the afternoon when I arrived. I decided to focus on locating the one or two poults that had been separated from the start. I sat in the shade, quietly, waiting, listening. After about 30 minutes, I decided to drive around the block, and as I was pulling out, I heard a distress call. I stayed in the truck until I honed in on the sound.
There it was. The little poult emerged from a bush and was headed for the street.
When it saw me get out of the truck, it started to bolt for cover. Without taking my eyes off of it, I grabbed for my net from the back of the truck and went after it, netting it in a planter. I placed the baby in a carrier and took a minute to record its calls to use later.
Next, I went to the property that backs up to the yard where the poults had been - the yard that the one had slipped into. Thankfully, the family was home and answered the door. They had actually just seen the poult - about fifteen minutes before, but after trying to capture it, they lost sight of it.
I scoured the backyard. Nothing. I played the recorded calls. Nothing. I walked up and down the block. Not a peep. So, I decided to look for the hen.

Windows down, I drove through the residential neighborhood and up and around the small rural lanes off Hill Road. I came across a lone turkey, and a jackrabbit, but no hen. I went back through again, this time playing the distress calls over my iPhone. I felt a little silly. It was pretty loud, and I was just creeping along like an ice cream truck.
I was just about to call it, when I spotted her! There she was, up ahead of me on the country lane, crossing back over into the field where Duane had left her. There were six poults trailing her. They had just made it across the shoulder. I needed to be fast. 
I leaned over and grabbed the baby from the box, turned on the camera, and pulled over onto the left shoulder. The hen was almost to the tall grass when she heard her baby calling, and stopped. I popped the door open to do a "drive by" and started to lean out, when my seatbelt put a sharp stop to my otherwise graceful move. Fumbling, I got free and gently tossed the ball of fluff about a foot out from the car - but it immediately turned and headed for the cover of the truck (now stopped). 
The hen was quick - she was on it! Her maternal instinct kicked in and she paid no mind to anything but getting her little one to follow her, which it did... and, as fast as she turned "on", she was "off" again - emotionless, Reptilian. She regained that slow, deliberate, theropodian-stride and led her babies into the tall grass where they disappeared. 
Check out the video:

We checked back with both households to see if they had spotted one of the lost poults, but they had not. We'll keep checking and will post an update.

Interesting turkey links:

Full episode of PBS' My Life As A Turkey

More Than A Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality