It is November, turkey time! There are plenty of wild turkeys roaming around the wooded areas of Avila. You can hear their comical sounding gobble, gobble, and even spot them trekking the Bob Jones Pathway. These turkeys, however, are not the kind to roast for your Thanksgiving dinner, but it is especially enjoyable to see them during November, the famed Thanksgiving month.
California’s wild turkey population, which is about a quarter-million or more, can be found just about everywhere in the state, but they favor the woodland areas such as those located along the outskirts of Avila, including the Bob Jones Trail. Present-day wild turkeys are not native to California. They are a subspecies from the southwest introduced to California by the California Fish and Game Commission from 1959 through 1999. The turkeys easily acclimated to the state due to their curious appetite. Wild turkeys are omnivores and therefore have a wide-ranging appetite. Seeds, berries, roots, insects, and even small reptiles are meal choices. In the fall and winter, turkeys scratch the forest ground looking for acorns to nibble. Like most birds, they swallow little stones and grit to help digest food. It is interesting to note that wild turkeys now occupy about 18 percent of our state. That is a lot of turkeys! They can live almost anywhere: agricultural fields, orchards, golf courses, state parks, and even university campuses. Wild turkeys live in 49 of the 50 states. Alaska is the only wild turkey-free zone.
Wild turkeys roam a mile or two in one day, depending on the water and food sources. The annual home range of wild turkeys varies from 370 to 1,360 acres. That range contains a mixture of trees and grasses. Turkey flocks, called a rafter, usually will stay in the same general areas. Turkeys spend most of the day on the ground, but at night they sleep in trees. Sleeping in trees provides protection from predators. They fly up to roost at dusk and fly down at dawn. Are you wondering why they do not fall while sleeping in the trees? They squat down, which makes their toes wrap around the roosting branch. The birds will not fall out of the tree nor be pushed down by a strong wind.
Turkeys that live in the wild weigh from five to twenty pounds. Domestic turkeys, which are specially bred, can weigh twice as much. There are approximately 5,500 feathers on an adult wild turkey, including 18 tail feathers that make up the male’s fan. Most of their plumage has an iridescent sheen. A wild turkey’s head and facial wattle can change color in seconds with emotion or excitement. It can be red, pink, white or blue. The snood, which is the flap of skin that hangs down over a turkey’s bill, can change color too. Additionally, the snood can change its size and shape depending upon activities or mood.
It is best to keep a safe distance from wild turkeys during the spring breeding season. Males can become aggressive and occasionally even charge at people. Be sure to give them plenty of room while hiking. Wild turkeys have powerful legs and can run up to 25 miles per hour. Surprisingly, wild turkeys can fly, but only for short distances. That skill allows them to move through open spaces more easily. They also fly when threatened. Often, they will cruise low through the forest canopy or fly up to perch for the night. Males display their feathered fans to attract females. Courting males also sway a potential mate by gobbling. That sound works as a warning for competing males too. However, that is not the only sound they make; turkeys cluck and purr too. A fascinating tidbit, turkey droppings tell a bird’s sex and age. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral-shaped. The larger the diameter, the older the bird. Nature certainly is amazing!
It is interesting to note that hens lay one egg a day until 10 to 12 eggs have been laid. The incubation time averages 28 days. The eggs hatch in late May or early June. Only 10 to 40 percent of eggs successfully hatch. Despite being born with feathers, baby turkeys, called poults, are unable to fly during the first four weeks of life and must rely on their mother for protection. Like most wildlife, many young are born, but the survival rate is low. Wild turkey eggs and poults are threatened by several predators such as raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, hawks, owls, and mountain lions, all of which are abundant in Avila’s forestry areas. Twenty-five percent of poults make it past their first month.
Avila’s ample turkey population adds to the intriguing bird habitat that surrounds the area. Although they are not exactly what you expect to see in a beach town, they are amusing to view. Take time to enjoy all the wildlife that resides in Avila Beach. It is a wonder that turkeys do not comb the beach ingesting sand for their digestive needs.