CHRONICLE: Turkey under the snow (6 photos)

A chance encounter raised a very important question about turkeys. Can they snowshoe?

A walk in heavy snow can be a beautiful thing. One such walk brought an encounter with wild turkeys in the soybean/hay field beyond my house. The turkeys were far away and I hadn’t brought my camera.

I went home to look for it and the first thing I saw when I got back to the field was the lone turkey in the first photo. As I tried to get through the deep snow, I wished I had snowshoes. Looking at the turkey, I thought she must feel the same way.

I didn’t want to stress him or others further with my approach, so

the photos are not very clear because of the distance, the snow and the end of the day. I almost didn’t write this because of it. Nonetheless, I rather think there’s something stoic about the turkey strut that’s worth sharing. They are quite remarkable birds as I have discovered.

While researching this, I read that turkeys do indeed have difficulty walking in soft, deep snow, which makes my guess, the only one in the photo wished she had snowshoes, more believable. Once the snow is crusted over it is much easier to walk, but the snow still covers the food sources.

Allaboutbirds.org says, “When deep snow covers the ground, they eat hemlock buds, evergreen ferns, spore-covered fronds of susceptible ferns, club mosses, and burdock.”

The Canadian Encyclopedia adds: “Wild turkeys are opportunistic foragers and eat a variety of items such as nuts, fruits, grass and sedge seeds, insects, snails, frogs, salamanders and crayfish.”

Interestingly, the encyclopedia indicates that there are two subspecies of wild turkeys in Canada. “The Eastern Wild Turkey is native to southern Ontario and Quebec, while the Merriam Wild Turkey was introduced to Manitoba in 1958 and Alberta in 1962.” The Merriam Wild Turkey is also found in southern British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Habitat loss when forests were cleared for settlers and mass hunting led to the disappearance of the eastern wild turkey from Canada in 1909.

Reintroduction attempts began in Ontario in 1984. This included trapping wild turkeys and moving them to other suitable natural areas to expand their range. These efforts have been successful and turkeys are now plentiful. They live all year round in open forests.

Allaboutbirds.org says, “As the sun sets, turkeys fly into the lower limbs of trees and move upwards from limb to limb to a high resting place.”

It’s quite common now to see turkeys foraging on the ground in fields for grain scraps, like the ones I saw. It may come as a surprise to know that they can run up to 40 km/h and fly at gusts of up to 80 km/h.

What creates a rather bizarre image in my mind is reading on allaboutbirds.org the following: “When needed, turkeys can swim by folding their wings, spreading their tails and giving kicking.”

It leaves no doubt in my mind that they can also snowshoe.

I share the experiences of bird visitors to this property with readers every two weeks. Until next time, keep an eye to the sky and look for any passing birds.

Rosaleen Egan is a freelance journalist, storyteller and playwright. She blogs on her website rosiewrites.com

Sharon P. Juarez