A turkey gobbles on a February morningWe’ve now reached mid-February and the strange winter continues. Temperatures above normal, even sometimes far beyond the expected, have become the norm. And the limited snowfall, or lack of it, is the standard for this season.
We’ve now reached mid-February and the strange winter continues. Temperatures above normal, even sometimes far beyond the expected, have become the norm. And the limited snowfall, or lack of it, is the standard for this season. Even though February is well known to be a dry month, we are proceeding through these days extra dry. But it’s not over and often the snowiest time of winter happens later. (We might remember 2007 when about 40 inches of snow fell during the waning days of February and early March.)
Strange seasons bring out strange happenings. And I have been noticing several this year. All through January, I found raccoon tracks every week; during a typical January, these masked neighbors would have slept through most of the month. Muskrats also have been regularly moving above the ice, and their tracks have appeared continually in the last two months. One even showed under my porch recently. In mid-January, I observed a chipmunk, another critter usually sleeping at this time, on a compost pile. But a few days ago, I noticed another big surprise.
The morning of Feb. 4 was truly spectacular. Clear skies, calm winds and a temperature of twenty degrees greeted me as I stepped out from the house. The pre-dawn fog had lifted but left a coating of frost on tree branches. Responding to the sunlight and lengthening days, I heard sounds usually associated with spring: the “feebee” songs of chickadees, the loud “yank-yank” calls of nuthatches and the resonating drumming of woodpeckers. With the forecast of about forty degrees, the early day was one of a “pseudo spring”. Despite this midwinter date, these sounds did not strike me as being very unusual, until I heard the next one. From a site to the northwest of where I stood, I heard a sound that I recognized immediately as one of a turkey gobbling!
Wild turkeys have been in the area for about ten years. Through much of the year, I have had sightings of them. These are often fleeting glimpses of a solitary one or a small group that crosses the road or moves about nearby. Populations have been breeding in the county and I have had several views of the young as well. Each spring lately, I have been hearing them as the male gobbles for territory and to attract mates, often more than one.
As a result of reintroduction and a northbound migration, turkeys have done well in this state. They seem to have succeeded further north than most observers predicted they would. I have found that my sightings of these large birds in winter have been in or near wooded areas. With the abundance of oaks in the region, they find ample food among the downed acorns. A snowpack of about a foot does not appear to have stopped them. And then there is this winter.
With little snow cover, the turkeys have been free to go wherever they want, and for the first time in years I watched flocks as they fed in open fields in midday. Composed of a half-dozen to about ten, the groups were observed in several fields. Finding little snow here, but enough food, they were able to feed quite well. Nearby woods provided shelter and roosts when the shortened days gave way to the long cold nights.
For the last ten years, I have come to consider wild turkeys as a regular part of the local bird life. And each spring, I look forward to the sound of their gobbling as I do the drums of ruffed grouse and the “pneet” calls of woodcocks. And I look forward to hearing them again this year. I just did not expect to hear a turkey gobbling on a chilly morning in early February. One male is getting ready early for the coming spring.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.