My friend Murphala has posted a lovely photo of a male North American wild turkey at her blog, FlourWaterYeast&Salt. In the comments, someone expressed gratitude at not being a girl turkey, which brought to mind the following:
When he was little, my son and I went to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport one overcast fall weekday. Several of the habitats at the zoo feature native fauna, and many of the animals were active because it was cool and cloudy and there were very few people about. We stood for a long time watching the wild turkeys.
About half of them were on one side of the habitat, foraging and gabbling quietly among themselves. The rest of the turkeys, who had been loosely grouped together on the far side of the habitat, began to approach the others gradually, with a studied casualness that seemed almost stealthy.
As they neared the first group, the feathers on their breasts puffed out dramatically and their gait became a stiff and rather formal kind of strut, complete with head motions. The first group – now it was clear they were females – took one look at the approaching males and trotted off to the other side of the enclosure, gabbling to each other. It took a couple minutes for the males to realize that the females had left – it has to be pretty difficult to see around that puffed up chest.
When they did notice, they lowered their feathers and looked around, no doubt critiquing their performances and wondering where the females had gone. Once they figured out the latter, they began to deliberately stroll toward that part of the enclosure, and the whole drama played itself out again.
As with most courtship rituals, it looked rather absurd from the outside. “Silly turkeys!” we giggled together as we watched.
After a few more iterations, my son asked what they were doing and why. I explained that the boy turkeys (that group there) were trying to get the attention of the girl turkeys (that group there). His mouth opened in wordless astonishment. Really? I nodded. He turned a quizzical eye back on the turkeys, where the females again evaded the attentions of their would-be suitors.
“I don’t think it’s working,” he said with a somber shake of his head.
Some days, it seems there’s not as much difference between us and the turkeys as we’d like to believe.