Northland Nature: Now, it's the turkeys' turn to feast
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods" and other books. Contact him via Katie Rohman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we move deeper into December, we have passed the time of the earliest sunsets of the year, Dec. 7-14, and sunsets now will start to slowly get later. Soon, we will reach the day of shortest daylight, winter solstice, the first day of winter. Along with light and dark conditions, we regularly look out on a landscape covered with snow. And subzero readings are a regular part of our days.
Though some Northlanders become migrants by spending time in the south, many of us will be here for the duration of winter. We are not alone. A large number of mammals with thick fur coats are able to remain in the region as well. They stay active and even if we do not see them during these weeks, we can read of their activities by seeing tracks in the persistent snow. I have not seen deer, fox, coyote, mice or hare in the yard lately, but tracks tell of their presence, often at night.
Also wintering with us are a variety of birds. Since they move in the daytime, we are more likely to see the activities of these avians. Often, they come to us. We may enjoy watching chickadees, nuthatches and jays feeding on sunflower seeds on a nearby feeder, while finches go for thistle seeds and woodpeckers dine on suet.
But there are other birds that remain here during the cold that do not make use of our feeders. Raptors, such as hawks, eagles, owls and shrikes continue their searches for small bird and mammal meals. The opportunistic crows and ravens seem always to be able to find food despite winter weather conditions.
Also present at this time are a couple gallinaceous (chicken-like) birds: grouse and turkeys. Seeds of several kinds can serve as food for these foraging birds, and unless the snow is very deep or hard, or the season is very limited in its productivity, they will survive. And sometimes, they thrive.
I have noted a group of about 15 wild turkeys that are wintering in the woods near me. Quite often, I find their large-toed tracks in the snow. Occasionally, I’ll disturb them in their cold-weather pine tree roosting sites. Usually, they find various seeds in the woods. But there are some cold and snowy days that they join smaller birds at the feeders to gather fallen sunflower seeds. Recently, as I was going through the woods a couple days after a new snow, I found much more evidence of their feeding activities.
The snow cover of 3-4 inches was easy for me to move through and the abundance of turkey tracks and foraging along with deer and squirrels near the trail told of their movements Wild turkeys are large and strong enough to dig through the snow cover and the leaves below to find meals.
We had a good crop of acorns this fall and now the turkeys locate them. And I found where they had a feast. I went by a south-facing hillside in which the snow and leaves of the forest floor were rummaged in an area of a couple hundred square feet.
Obviously, a group of turkeys found conditions were fine for feeding and so they proceeded to leave no leaf unturned in the searching for acorn meals. With this big of an area fed upon, they must have devoured many. The turkeys found plenty here. There is much more of winter to go, I hope they will continue to find acorn meals on cold days, and maybe even more feasts.