A second winter of feeding the local turkeys is near its end. The spring hunt begins on April 9th and continues through the end of May. If the hunt doesn’t scatter them the primal call to breed and nest will soon irresistibly send them up into the surrounding hills. They won’t go far, but go they will. We hoped that the offer of free corn would keep them around last summer. We were utterly disappointed.
Still, two days ago I re-filled the feeder with 250 pounds of corn. I also spread another fifty pounds on the ground but there’s no trace of it today. There is such a thing as a free lunch and the turkeys take advantage of it while they can.
It’s a blustery March afternoon, too warm to be Winter, too cold to be Spring. It snowed half-heartedly last night but all that fell has melted, leaving the ground damp and cold. The skies look as though they’d like to try again but haven’t the energy to do anything more than threaten. The sun is barely visible through the clouds and will drop below the west rim of the canyon in less than an hour. A northern flicker whinnies and drums atop a tree that stands on the banks of the creek. Magpies squawk back and forth to each other from the oak brush. A robin calls, house finches sing, a pair of ravens fly silently overhead, but the turkeys are quiet and not to be seen.
I walk to the barn, remove a fifty pound bag of corn from the tack shed, slit a long gash in it and then heave it over my shoulder, leaving a trail of corn where ever I wander. I throw the empty bag in the back of my truck, walk to the feeder and activate it. The feeder makes a noise the turkeys well know and they respond promptly. Nearly two dozen birds emerge from the brush along the creek and sprint across the pasture to the feeding ground. I know there are more but they make me wait. Turkeys are remarkably bright but seem to be very much creatures of habit.
At 6:30 p.m. the feeder begins the first of its three scheduled evening broadcasts. Chaos erupts. A horde of turkeys emerge from the creek bottom, dozens more whoosh in from the east, and a multitude of the birds scamper through the oak brush, down the steep hillside to the west. This west-hill group seems to have the largest toms. Based on the length of their beards and the size of their spurs, some of these males are at least four years old. I marvel, thinking of the hunts they’ve survived, of the winters they’ve endured. Most of the birds, male and female alike, are content to eat but one of the toms begins to strut, and then another. It’s too dark to use my camera but I refuse to let the laws of physics deter me. I do not know if the birds will remain when I next return. I want photographs as well as memories. The birds are many and they devour everything: all of the corn thrown by the feeder, all of the corn I dropped from the bag, any stray kernels that might have been missed from earlier feedings, heaven only knows how. I watch them wander away, through the growing gloom, and I wonder which of these birds and how many will return in November, when food again becomes scarce and winter again lays claim to the canyon.