On Wednesday, February 25th I headed out to Hurdman at lunch. It had warmed up to -10°C but a strong, icy wind made it feel much colder. I was still looking for Bohemian Waxwings, and was hoping the plentiful Buckthorn berries at Hurdman had attracted some of these winter wanderers – in winters where they are present, Hurdman is a good spot to find them. Perhaps it was the cold, but there were very few birds around. I counted only 4 species, all of which were right along the feeder path. The extremely cold winter has caused this section of the Rideau River to freeze over completely, so I didn’t see any ducks. This is the first time I haven’t seen any open water on either side of the 417 bridge, so it isn’t a surprise that the usual ducks and Common Goldeneyes have had to go elsewhere.
The best bird of my visit was the large flock of Wild Turkeys that greeted me upon my arrival. I was about 15 feet away from where the feeders used to hang at the entrance to the woods when I saw the turkeys running up the path toward me. I stopped in my tracks and waited to see what would happen. They saw me, and although two continued to walk toward me, the others stopped and then turned around as if to leave. I counted eight of them altogether.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Wild Turkeys here. My first encounter occurred in 2008 when I spotted a female with two young birds less than half the size of the adult.
Later that year, I encountered three full-sized turkeys in November 2008. Then, after a long period of in which I didn’t see any of these large gallinaceous birds, in January 2014, I observed a male and female beneath one of the feeders. I saw them again in April. As I didn’t visit Hurdman much last summer, I did not see any turkeys until December 2014 when I counted at least three of them. They had darted across the bike path in front of me while I was still quite far off. I saw them again on my way back, on the other side of the bike path, and wasn’t sure if it was the same birds I had seen earlier or different ones. On January 9, 2015 I counted five running down the trail in front of me before disappearing into the thickets, and on February 6, 2015 I saw four right near the construction site entrance, possibly eating the salt off the path there.
So I knew there were a few turkeys around, suggesting that the pair I had seen in January and April 2014 had successfully bred and raised a family. I just wasn’t sure how many there actually were.
Wild Turkeys lay between 4 and 17 eggs each spring and raise only one brood per year. The incubation period lasts approximately one month, while the nestling stage lasts only about a day. After all the eggs have hatched, the hen leaves the nest with her young. Male Wild Turkeys provide no parental care; instead the young – called poults – follow the hen, who feeds them until they learn to find their own food. While the poults are still flightless, they spend the nights on the ground, huddled beneath their mother. This period does not last very long, as feather development occurs rapidly, starting with the wings. By the time they are 10 days old the poults are able to fly up to low branches to roost. By the time they reach 18 days of age they are strong fliers.
The males leave all of the chick-rearing to the females and form all-male flocks once the breeding season is over. The chicks travel in a family group with their mother, often combining with other family groups to form large flocks. I’m guessing that because there are no other Wild Turkeys in the area – Hurdman Park being right in the middle of the city, close to downtown, with no agricultural or large forested areas close by – the male stayed with his family group during the winter.
The male and female had no issues with my standing there while they scratched the snow beneath an empty suet basket. The male foraged first, while the female kept a wary eye on me. Then the male wandered off deeper into the woods while the female took her turn searching for food in the snow.
Then she, too, followed the male into the woods, and the six other turkeys slowly walked up to the feeder area. Each one turned to look at me, and a couple of them even paused to check me out. Two of them looked smaller and skinnier than the others, though whether this was because of their age or the deep snow cover making it difficult to find food, I couldn’t say. Still, it’s clear that someone is putting food out on the ground for the wildlife, given all the tracks in the snow and the hulled sunflower seeds right near the trail entrance.
Soon the entire family had vanished. I enjoyed my time with them, marvelling all over again how large these birds really are and how comical they look running along the path. It will be interesting to see how this population fares over time. Will it remain, or even increase? Or will it disappear as the birds I saw in 2008 seem to have disappeared? I’m definitely looking forward to visiting in the warmer months and seeing whether they breed again!