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Photo by Anne Forline - Gobble, Gobble - A rafter of turkeys pokes around a lawn in Bellmawr. Birding enthusiast Dave Magpiong says male turkeys are generally larger than females and often have a blue or red head. They will often "puff up" for the females.

By: Anne Forline
Gloucester City News

Have you heard the joke about why the turkey crossed the road?

He was trying to get to the other side!


If you live in or near Bellmawr, you have probably have caught sight of a roving group of wild turkeys trying to cross over 295, Route 130, Route 42 or any of the side streets in between.


These groups, or rafters, of wild turkeys are also known by their scientific name: Meleagris gallopavo. They have been spotted not only in Bellmawr, but in Gloucester City, Westville and neighboring towns, noted Dave Magpiong, a birding enthusiast and founder of the Fledging Birders Institute, a non-profit environmental organization.


Magpiong, of Bellmawr, has also seen wild turkeys in Deptford, Voorhees and Cherry Hill.

He is unsure about why we have started to see the turkeys more often, but wondered if the Bellmawr Waterfront Project may be one of the causes.


“It could have something to do with the loss of habitat from the project. Several years ago, that area along Creek Road was a fairly ideal home for them,” he speculated.


Noting that the turkeys and other wildlife are often displaced by development, Magpiong pointed out, “As their more natural habitats are paved over, there are two options:  move or die. Partially wooded suburbs can provide suitable foraging and roosting areas for these evicted animals.”


Turkeys have a range of about two miles. “This means ‘our’ turkeys in Bellmawr could possibly be the same ones people see in Runnemede, Westville, Gloucester and other nearby communities,” he explained.


In Bellmawr over by Hargrove Marina, catching sight of the roving rafter of turkeys is a daily occurrence. The turkeys are often observed poking around on front lawns and back yards during the day and then flying up to roost in the tall trees at night.


This is common for turkeys to do. “I was stunned the very first time I actually witnessed a rafter of turkeys take flight into a nearby tree. Watching those huge birds get airborne was very impressive,” he remembered.


He added, “Turkeys generally fly short distances, but are capable of some sustained flight with tremendous effort, as can be imagined given their size!”


Turkeys are omnivores and subsist on a variety of foods, which include seeds, acorns, fruit and even salamanders.  Magpiong cautions against feeding them: “If they are in your area often, they are likely finding enough food to survive.”


Turkeys have many natural predators, including rodents, dogs, crows, snakes and other common wildlife, he said. “They will prey upon the eggs of turkeys and other birds. Young turkeys have the same predators but may also be taken by foxes or birds of prey, such as hawks, owls and eagles in our area.”


There is also the human factor.  Humans have caused the turkey population to drop drastically, beginning about a hundred years ago. Today, we still have a huge impact on turkeys through hunting, car impacts, pesticides on our lawns and development of natural lands, Magpiong stated.


Turkeys do not live that long in the wild. He estimated that the average life span is between two and four years.


Magpiong offered a few bird watching tips. In order to differentiate between the male and female, look at its size. The male is significantly larger. It often has either a blue or red head and his feathers have a beautiful iridescence. Whereas the female is smaller and often has a grayish head and lacks the colorful highlights that the male has.


When a male turkey is seen all puffed up with his fanned out tail, he is trying to woo the ladies. This courtship display is the iconic image for many a Thanksgiving placemats. It's fun to watch him puff up and strut his stuff, Magpiong said.


He continued that wild turkeys are generally not aggressive. “In fact, their most common defensive behavior when approached is to walk away from a threat and disappear into the underbrush.  Yet, they may get defensive if they have young around, cannot escape into a hiding spot, or otherwise perceive a threat,” he explained.


If you happen to encounter the turkeys, Magpiong advised, “The best course of action for turkeys and other wildlife is to admire them from a distance. Remember, they are wild animals.”


More educational information on birds can be found at www.fledgingbirders.org.


Anne Forline blogs at: http://anneforline.blogspot.com.

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