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One of the great mysteries of spring is where all the wild turkeys go once the hunting season opens. I have photos of as many as 40 birds at one time in my back yard as recently as April 15, but now that the hunting season has opened I’m lucky if I see one or two turkeys each day.
Over the winter there were groups of five or six big tom turkeys sharing the grain and seed with dozens of other birds, but just before opening day they stopped coming in and I’ve yet to see a mature tom anywhere. In fact, for the last few weeks only a lone hen and a young jake have spent any time at the feeder, and even they are no longer regular visitors. Oddly enough, I still have the same half-dozen deer coming in every day (mostly at night) and a trio of raccoons that show up just after dark, but turkeys . . . they’re long gone.
I suppose the dearth of birds is due mostly to the onset of the breeding season and the corresponding abundance of natural foods available. Crowding into a back yard to eat commercial feeds is not the norm for any wild critter – it is survival rationing at best. Now that grasses, shoots, sprouts and insects are more abundant the birds don’t need to risk life and limb by coming in to feed outside my office window. It’s not a natural setting and they are always very nervous while they are here, so I’m sure they prefer roaming the woods in search of forage instead. At least the evidence suggests it.
There’s also the threat of a new disease that’s affecting the Northeast’s turkey population, some sort of fungus that covers the birds’ heads, necks and legs. It looks terrible but (biologists say) the disease doesn’t affect the flesh of the bird. However, few folks are interested in eating something that looks that bad, even on the surface. None of “my” birds have been affected by the disease but then again they’ve quit coming to the feeders, which may be an indication that the fungus is among us.
Meanwhile, the other birds in the vicinity have been active. On a recent rainy day I built a half-dozen simple bird houses and put them in the trees around the yard, but one ended up sitting on the far corner of the deck because I couldn’t decide where to put it. Well, the next day I went to move it and was greeted by a pair of barn swallows who had already moved in! I anchored the feeder to the deck so the raccoons (remember them?) wouldn’t raid the feeder and rob the nest, so now I get to watch the cycle of swallow life right outside my window.
The swallows wasted no time taking advantage of their new house but I think the hummingbirds win the “instant appearance” award. I had put a feeder out for them a few weeks ago but the raccoons (remember them?) got to it first, smashing the feeder to bits and licking up all the new nectar I’d just put out. The porch railing and deck was covered with sticky nectar and all through it were the footprints of those pesky raccoons.
I waited a few days to put up a new feeder (higher and more difficult to reach this time) and while I was hanging it a male hummingbird buzzed in for a look! He was no more than a foot away from me, hovering patiently while I finished the job, and then he let me back away about two steps before he landed on the feeder and started dipping. I have often had chickadees swarm me at the feeder, some landing on my arms and shoulders, but this was the first time I had a hummingbird show up while I was hanging a feeder. So far the raccoons haven’t bothered the feeder and there are three or four hummers using it every day, so things are going well in that arena.
There is a phoebe nest in the peak of the roof where I have a double floodlight fixture, and already the young birds are clamoring for food. The male and female take turns feeding the hatchlings and spend most of their day flying around catching insects and stuffing them down the throats of their endlessly hungry young. The resemblance to teenaged boys is unmistakable – always eating, sleeping or begging for more!
Down by the bass pond the geese have been busy as well. Pods of goslings accompany their parents to every cottage that offers free food, and they seem to know which property owners don’t want a yard full of geese, especially later in the summer when those cute little honkers grow into adulthood, eating more and leaving a fine mess for the landowner to clean up. Geese are fun to watch as they paddle and fly around the pond, but, like most wild things, they are better enjoyed at a distance.
The loons, too, are busy raising their young, but they tend to keep their distance. Every so often I’ll paddle quietly past a nest and surprise the loon family. I can tell that they just don’t trust humans and prefer to be well away from human activity. I make it a point to drift by without a lot of movement or noise, but even then the adult loons move their broods quickly away from the intrusion.
Most nesting birds and animals are quiet, secretive and easy to overlook, but this year I have a family of crows nesting in one big, dead pine and a family of ravens just a few hundred feet away. The young birds are loud, demanding and none too musical – I actually like the sounds that adult crows and ravens make, but these young birds sound like someone is trying to twist off their feet. The screeching goes on all day even though the adults do their best to keep the fledglings fed. The cacophony begins at sunrise and continues till dusk. Maybe that’s why the turkeys haven’t been around here lately!
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