Thursday, July 21, 2011
ROMANCE IN THE WILD KINGDOM
When I look out my kitchen window every morning, it’s like watching the TV show, Wild Kingdom. In fact, I half expect the ghost of Marlin Perkins to pop out of the bushes with his camera crew and film our property.
The “zoo” began innocently enough. I was washing dishes one morning and was so bored, I nearly dozed off and landed face first in the suds. Of course, the fact I usually don’t do the previous night’s dinner dishes until 5 o’clock in the morning, might have had something to do with it.
Anyway, there is a window directly above the kitchen sink, so I thought it might prevent me from lapsing into a dishwashing-induced coma if I hung a bird feeder in a tree directly facing the window so I’d have something to look at.
We have a fenced-in yard, but the tree I chose for the feeder was located just outside the fence, for a couple good reasons. For one, my dogs love to eat birdseed and sunflower seeds. For another, they love to eat birds. So having the feeder on the other side of the fence seemed like a better idea.
The small feeder I hung in the tree attracted small birds, mostly chickadees and sparrows. So I started tossing some of the birdseed, along with bread, peanuts, popcorn, and whatever else I had around the house, on the ground near the feeder.
Soon, crows showed up. And squirrels. And dozens of blue jays. I was pleased with the growing popularity of my “restaurant.” So I went to the grain store and bought big bags of cracked corn, sunflower hearts and chopped peanuts.
More squirrels, both gray and red, showed up, along with more noisy blue jays. And more crows, along with three huge, big-headed black birds that made the crows look like sparrows in comparison. I thought they might be ravens, so I named them Edgar, Allan and Poe.
And then came the morning the turkeys showed up – two really big males and three hens. I was fascinated, mainly because the only turkeys I’d ever seen up close were in freezers and had “Butterball” printed on them.
One of the male turkeys had a prominent limp. My husband started calling him Chester, in honor of one of his favorite characters on the old TV show, Gunsmoke (for those of you who are too young to remember Gunsmoke, Deputy Chester Goode was a character who had a bad leg and hobbled all around Dodge City).
I particularly enjoyed watching Chester the turkey, especially in his efforts to attract one of the hens. Every time she’d walk by, he’d fan out his tail, puff out his chest and strut around with his wings dragging on the ground. And every time he did, she completely ignored him.
“I feel bad for poor Chester,” I said to my husband. “He tries every single morning to get the attention of one of the hens and she just snubs him. Do you think it’s because he has a limp?”
“Nah,” my husband said, “she’s probably just playing hard to get.”
A few days later, Chester showed up looking as if he’d been attacked by a gang of thugs. His tail feathers were sticking out at odd angles, one wing was drooping, and his limp seemed even worse. I figured either the hen got tired of him constantly strutting in front of her and she beat him up, or the other male decided he wanted the same hen and tried to do away with his competition.
Still, even in his less than attractive state, Chester continued to show off in front of the hen…and she still acted as if he were invisible. The minute she’d walk off, leaving him standing there, he’d deflate like a punctured balloon. His chest would go flat, his fanned-out tail would droop and his head would hang. It was a pretty pathetic sight.
But a couple months ago, something strange happened. Chester, as usual, was trying to capture his beloved hen’s attention, when she suddenly walked over to him and stretched out on the ground right in front of him. I had no idea what her actions meant, so I rushed to my computer and looked up information on turkeys.
“When a hen is ready to breed with a gobbler,” it said, “she often will lie down in front of him as a signal.”
I was so excited, I woke up my husband. “Chester’s finally going to get lucky!” I shouted as I burst into the bedroom. “His persistence paid off!”
My husband apparently didn’t share my excitement. “I hope you’re not planning to videotape the event,” he said, then rolled over and went back to sleep.
I didn’t see the hen for quite a while after that. I started to worry that maybe Chester had accidentally killed her in a fit of pent-up passion, or maybe she had died during childbirth (egg birth?).
But a couple weeks ago, while I was washing yet another batch of dishes (I really need to buy some paper plates), out of the woods strutted Chester, the hen and eight little chicks (or “poults”). Once again, I woke up my husband.
“I’m a grandmother! Chester’s girlfriend had babies!”
This time, he actually climbed out of bed to go look out the window. Just as he did, Chester lowered his head and charged at the hen when she tried to get too close to him while he was eating.
“Hmph! Look at that!” I said. “Now that she’s had his kids, he’s chasing her away!”
“Typical male,” my husband joked. “You know, Chester sure does have a lot of meat on his bones, doesn’t he? I’ll bet he weighs at least 25 pounds.”
“You’re picturing him smothered in gravy, aren’t you?” I narrowed my eyes at him.
He laughed and went back to bed.
Just to be safe, I’m going to take a thorough head count of the turkeys every morning from now until Thanksgiving.