Outdoors Column: Thunder in the Valley

Turkeys are rather strange birds. The Tom turkeys gobble at this time of year, mainly to attract the hens, but also, I think, just for the entertainment of it. Just before dawn this morning, I took my coffee to the front porch to enjoy the start of a new spring day. A storm had passed through during the night and was trailing off to the east when I got outside. An occasional clap of thunder could be heard off in the distance. Every time it would thunder, the turkeys would gobble. To me, this does not make a lot of sense. I think they are just trying to be the one to make the most noise. When an owl hoots, it will also set off a series of gobbles down the valley. I know the Toms are not trying to attract an owl, I think they just enjoy answering. The nearest Tom will answer the owl which will set off the next gobbler which will make the next one gobble and off down the line. The series of calls will echo off into the distance and can be heard for a mile or more.


When the clouds rolled away and the sun came up, the gobblers got into full voice. It was a beautiful morning with the fresh green grass glistening from the night’s rain. The hen and gobblers flew down from their nighttime roosts and the calling became more frequent and urgent. Now the gobblers were trying to gather their harems for breeding rather than just trying to scare off the thunder or impress owls with the decibel level of their calls.


On the far side of the lake, I could see several hens moving out into the meadow. I could hear a Tom hanging back in the timber, gobbling his heart out. His hens were more interested in eating the fresh green grass than his grand standing. As they spread out and moved away from the tree line, the gobbler finally showed himself. He was strutting and proud, feathers shining in the morning sun light. I went in and got the spotting scope to get a better view.


Through the scope, I could get detail of his colors. His head turned from a pale blue to white and red as he got excited. Moving with the sun hitting him, his chest flashed copper, black, and fluorescent shades of blue and green. They really are beautiful birds. He strode proudly back and forth, doing his best to impress the ladies. The hens seemed rather ambivalent about his impressive display. They continued to mill about, scratching and eating. When he would gobble, other birds in the area would gobble in return. I could hear a couple over at twin sluices, another toward Strawberry Hill and another that sounded like he was by the thousand yard bench up in the Paintball Timber. They were all out of sight but wanted to make their presence known.


From the way the hens were acting, I would say it will be a few days before breeding season and nesting starts. They did not seem to be in any hurry to get to a nest as they grazed around as a flock. They eventually worked their way back into the timber to feed on acorns. The old gobbler followed along, strutting all the way. His patience will eventually pay off and the hens will settle down and breed. In the meantime, we get to enjoy the sound of gobbling rolling down the valley like thunder on a spring morning.