Thursday, February 20, 2014
Turkeys and puberty
On the way to the farm this morning, in a winter-browned field, I saw a group of young toms experiencing an initial testosterone rush, and, in a very human equivalency, not having a clue as to why it was happening or what to do about it. I'm certain that many of this group were the same chicks that I saw scurrying after their mothers a few months ago, afraid of their shadows and rightly so. I watched them become 'tweeners and teenagers over the summer and early fall, an awkward interim phase, still basically afraid of their shadow, but growing more curious about their surroundings. Movement from place to place had gone from a frenzied, dusty scurry to a semi-controlled trot, with an occasional glance over their shoulders to see what was going on to the rear. They were still a bunch of momma's boys (and girls).
Sadly, I would also watch their numbers shrink, but this was something I had grown accustomed to, knowing that these little guys and gals were popular targets for predators, especially a rangy coyote with a growling stomach.
Today, it was all boys...a whole fine gang of them, with tail-feathers fanned, chests puffed, heads bobbing, and wattles swinging freely. Momma was long gone, as weak a memory as the pale, thin shell they had pecked though to freedom in late spring. Dad had never been around - delegated to a squawky gargle somewhere across the pasture at the edge of the woods. And now it was as if they didn't recognize each other as the same gang who had spent the last many weeks hanging out by the river, zigging and zagging after June bugs, and stumbling into each other as they picked their way through the undergrowth and weeds. Hormones were raging from the bottom of their turkey feet to the tips of their turkey feathers and things just weren't as copasetic as in the past. They bounced off each other like helium balloons. Puff up, chest bump, stagger, squawk, and start the whole process again.
Even today, however, was nothing more than a dress rehearsal: fanning to the max, wattle swinging, gobblety gooking - getting ready for opening night when the ladies show up. I'm not sure of the ratio, but what I've witnessed in the past seems to indicate something like a half dozen males per female. Let me put it this way, I've never seen an unhappy hen but I've seen a bunch of frustrated toms.
I left my truck and spent a few minutes watching the boys mix it up. Scrum and separate and scrum again. Feeling good that so many of them had made it through a really cold winter but feeling bad that in a very short period of time, the days of youth would be officially over and it would all be about the business of procreating. And before I know it, in just very few weeks, I'll see a frenetic, stray hen trying to lead me away from a nest she has spent days preparing and hiding and tending. And before I can turn around, there will be a sighting of the first flock, feathery little butterballs (oops) on toothpick legs, scurrying behind momma in single file, with barely a moment and scarcely the chance to consider and comprehend what a miracle life is.