Greenpoint: With fall in the air, turkeys everywhere

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The leaves haven’t changed yet, but there are other undeniable signs that fall is here. The songbirds are gone, the turkeys are flocking, the gardens are winding down.

We try to time plantings to be finishing up around first frost. If the frost is early, we have mad picking frenzies when there’s a freeze warning, bringing in baskets of cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes.

This year the frost is late and much of the garden is ending on its own. The cucumbers are just about done and the onions and potatoes are all harvested. The cabbages are in their fall glory and the chard, which got eaten by a couple of midsummer marauding deer, has recovered and is producing nicely again. The summer squash just won’t quit and we’re picking baby yellow squash every day.

While I’m busy processing produce for the freezer and the canner, the squirrels and chipmunks are busy burying food and trying to put on as much weight as they can to survive the winter. They are not true hibernators, but they slow down in the coldest months and need to prepare for when food is less abundant.

Up and down the road we see turkeys, and the flocks seem to be really big this year. My sister, about 100 miles south of here, called to tell me about a huge flock in her yard, 25, 35, maybe more. She took some videos on her phone — 20 turkeys in one, 18 in another. They didn’t stay in one place long enough to be counted. Whatever the numbers, there were more turkeys than she had ever seen in one spot.

Fall turkey flocks can number more than 100 birds as family groups band together. There are so many flocks here right now I have to stop multiple times as I’m driving down our road, to let them walk across or to watch them flap their way into trees, one after another after another.

In the spring breeding period, the flocks are much smaller — one mating tom, several mating hens and a few subordinate males who are mostly there for guard duty. Once the hens start setting, the toms will wander off, leaving the chick-raising behind. Each brood can range from a handful of chicks to more than a dozen. And once the chicks have grown to poults, mama hens often flock together, with their respective families.

By fall, the flocks have merged and grown. The young males leave to form their own groups. So you’ll have flocks that are all male, often segregated by age, and flocks of multiple hens with their many poults. My sister’s flock seemed to be hens and young ones.

A flock of turkeys pretty much has one goal in mind: finding food. In summer, they’ll eat just about anything — insects, grains, seeds, nuts, newts, worms, berries. If there’s a cut cornfield, they’ll scratch through that, looking for dropped seeds or the occasional bug. In fall it’s acorns and other fallen nuts, the seeds from pinecones, dried berries still on a bush. In winter, it’s whatever they can find — moss, nuts, pine seeds, buds.

Those flocks you see everywhere this time of year will be harder to spot in winter, as they move deeper into the forests where the tree cover will keep snow from piling too high. Turkeys can scratch through snow if it’s not too deep. A big flock can cover a lot of ground looking for food, calling out to one another to keep together, staying on the move during the day. At night, they’ll roost in the lower part of trees, maybe 20 feet up.

It’s nice to see them now, moving in with the fall, foretelling the colder nights and the first wood fires of the season.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Oct. 10. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Life and Arts

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