[Tweeters] WILD TURKEY - King County - (LONG - and images)

johntubbs at comcast.net johntubbs at comcast.net
Thu May 28 16:24:49 PDT 2009

Hi everyone,

I do a monthly bird survey in the Cedar River Watershed for one of the City of Seattle's wildlife biologists, and this morning was this month's survey.  It was going about as expected until I spied something dark on the gravel road ahead of me.  My first thought was bear as I had seen a medium to large size black bear earlier in the morning (bear are quite commonly seen in the watershed, along with bobcats and - if you're lucky - cougar).  Except as I got closer, I realized it was a Wild Turkey (WITU).  This was a fairly exciting realization, as my understanding is that it is not felt there are naturally-reproducing WITU's in King County.  (There are well established populations in much of WA east of the Cascades, and also in the SW corner of the state, to my understanding.  As a sidenote, all three major subspecies of WITU - Merriam's, Rio Grande and Eastern - are found in WA although none are native to the state originally.) 

Thinking this could be an important observation, I naturally stopped and grabbed the binocs.  I really needn't have done that, because the turkey quickly decided that my Toyota SUV was his competition for the local female turkeys.  Or, alternatively, thought that the truck was a female turkey.  How did I discern this?  Well, said turkey immediately went into full strut (display), fanning his tail and his body feathers impressively and approaching the truck quite closely.  'Closely' in this case means right outside my window.  As I was staring at this bold critter out through the open window, he lowered and stretched out his neck and let out an ear-piercing GOBBBLE-OBBBLE-OBBBBLE!!  My left ear began ringing, but still I was happy to be this close to nature (albeit quite confused nature) at its finest.  I had heard a few distant gobbles in the spring in the woods before, but nothing like this. 

Recovering from my shock at the bird's behavior, I grabbed the camera.  I only had a point-and-shoot with me, although the light was so contrasty that my bigger camera and lenses wouldn't have done a great deal of good.  Not only because of the light, but because Mr. Gobbles turned out to be one highly aggressive bird.  I found this out as he strutted around to the back of the car and I figured I'd get out and shoot a few pix.  When he heard the door open, he turned, looked me in the eyes and sprinted toward me.  My first reaction was to laugh.  My second reaction was to jump inside the car - quickly - and slam the door.  Gobblers have sharp spurs for fighting other birds for territory, and a mean peck as well - at least so I've been told and I wasn't about to find out the hard way.  As I was eyeing the bird with newfound respect, it eyed me, let out another boisterous gobble and then gave me the evil eye again.  He wouldn't try to jump up and in the car window now, would he?...I asked myself.  While all this was happening, I was snapping pictures and chuckling.  My judgment (never on the high end of the bell-shaped curve anyway) must be deteriorating with age, as I spontaneously decided to see what he would do if I gobbled back at him.  This elicited two more ear-piercing gobbles and several hard pecks to the car door, and more evil eye stares.  This standoff continued for a few minutes and he walked away far enough for me to chance jumping out and getting some more normal perspective pictures.  Every time I would jump out, he would turn around and charge.  I would snap a couple of images, jump in the car to escape the crazy bird and so it went. 

Finally I tired of this, figured I had enough images and started to drive away, watching carefully so as not to end his strutting career prematurely.  He followed alongside the car, up to the point of full-sprint running until I was far enough down the road that he dropped off, no longer in display posture. 

After I finished the survey I called the wildlife biologist figuring I'd pulled a coup and found a new species for the watershed, and perhaps some indication of a breeding population in King County (albeit from all the evidence from my encounter, this breeding population was definitely in the shallow and/or disturbed end of the gene pool).  Much to my chagrin, the biologist said something to the effect of "Oh, you met him!  He hung around our buildings last spring and chased people back into their cars a lot.  Did he try to mate with your truck?"  Turns out the watershed personnel believe this bird is an escapee from a farm bordering the watershed - there is at least one which raises 'wild' turkeys.  So much for the significance of my 'find'.  However, on one serious note, from the behavior of the bird, it seems likely that it is the same bird that they had in the watershed last year - meaning it survived the winter, which was a pretty severe one.  Wild turkeys are tough birds with strong populations in cold parts of the eastern half of the US, and this one apparently demonstrated that even a slightly weird turkey can winter over in the Puget Sound area.  Being tree roosters instead of ground roosters definitely helps their survival rate with ground-based predators.

For those of you who want to see the photographic documentation of my encounter with this deranged creature, click on the following link and then click NEXT to cycle through each of the six images.  The link is:


The first image shows the gobbler in full display sizing up my vehicle (note the two missing tail feathers - would be interesting to know what happened to them).  The second image shows what a charging turkey looks like - note his eye fixation on the camera (my head, in other words).  The third shows one of his swipes at the truck.  The fourth  and fifth show closeups of him in full display, and the final image shows a view of the bird in display from behind him.  The image quality isn't publication grade, but it shows the story. 

John Tubbs

Snoqualmie, WA

johntubbs at comcast.net


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