Feb 012018
 

Abundant Wild Turkeys entertain rural residents with their interesting behaviours.

It was a blockbuster trade for the ages. However, it wasn’t athletes that were shuffled around. It was wildlife. In 1984, Ontario sent River Otters to Missouri, Ruffed Grouse to New York and Moose to Michigan in exchange for 274 Wild Turkeys from all three states.

The last native Wild Turkey disappeared from Ontario more than 100 years ago. Habitat loss and unregulated hunting did them in. There were many attempts at reintroduction, including at least one in the 1960s with turkeys from Pennsylvania. It was spearheaded by ‘Turkey Jack’ Davis, a well-known outdoors writer who later moved to Peterborough. His daughter, Wendy, remembers a “garage full of turkeys” at their Port Credit home. These early attempts were never successful, unfortunately, because they used captivity-raised birds, which couldn’t adapt to life in the wild. However, thanks to the wide genetic spectrum of the turkeys acquired in 1984, this reintroduction was an astounding success.

Bearded hen & tom Wild Turkey – April 8, 2017 – Doug Gibson

Since then, Ontario’s turkey population has skyrocketed to about 100,000 birds. Most remarkably, they now range as far north as Algonquin Park and Sudbury, which is likely outside their historical range. Initially, there were fears that the climate would be too harsh, but the resilient turkeys proved the biologists wrong.

Catching the wild American birds was made possible by the development of a Howitzer-propelled net – a technology still used today. Jennifer Baici, a PhD student at Trent University who studies Wild Turkey social structure and behaviour, describes how the trapping works.” We begin by finding a flock and learning its schedule. This includes noting when the birds typically leave the roost, the path that they take throughout the day and what time they tuck in for the night. Turkeys are highly predictable in the winter, so we can make a plan about how to bait them. This involves intercepting their daily path with a ‘bait line’ of corn. We extend this line out into the middle of a field where we put down a large pile of corn. Once the flock is visiting the bait at roughly the same time each day, we set up a camouflaged net and wait for the turkeys to arrive. Although these birds are usually quite predictable, they still surprise us by occasionally sleeping in way later than expected!” To see a 10-second video of turkey trapping in action, click HERE.

A bird we notice

In researching this article, I contacted a number of people living out in Peterborough County for any turkey anecdotes they might have. As we’ll see, everyone had numerous stories. I should note, too, that turkeys often show up right in Peterborough.

Wild Turkeys are a striking bird. They have iridescent bronze-green feathers and bare skin on the head and neck, which can vary from to red to blue-grey. The bare skin probably plays a role in heat dissipation, since turkeys are essentially southern birds where hot weather is a challenge. Males – and very occasionally females – also have a bristly “beard” made of modified feathers that extend off the chest. Its purpose is poorly understood, but it may play a role in mate selection by the female.

Wild Turkeys in front of barn on Chemong Road at 3rd Line – Wasyl Bakowsky

In early spring, the toms (males) gather in clearings to perform courtship displays. They strut about gobbling with hormone-charged exuberance. Annamarie Beckel, who lives just south of Lakefield, has had a front row seat to the spectacle. “We woke up one May morning to find a tom and about six hens in our front yard. The hens were browsing in the grass, while the tom was displaying for all he was worth – the fully fanned tail, the fluffed up feathers and the dropped wing. The hens, of course, appeared to ignore him!”

The hens nest in hedgerows, along the edge of woodlots and sometimes in hayfields. The birds stay in family groups most of the summer. Sometimes two or three hens and their broods will join together. Winter flocks, however, are the largest. On average, a flock contains 25-50 birds, but sometimes there are many more. “In winter, we’ve seen large flocks of 100 or more in neighbouring fields,” says David Frank, who lives on Stewart Line near Cavan.

Wild Turkey nest (Marie Adamcryck – Bailieboro)

Turkeys are well-established north of Peterborough, too. Dennis and Lynn Johnson, who live on the north shore of Stony Lake, have been noticing them for at least 12 years. Across the lake on Dodsworth Island, Rob Welsh sees them there, too. “In winter, they parade between islands in more or less single file – a comical sight!”
At dusk, turkeys fly up into trees to roost for the night. For several years, Tim Dyson watched a flock that roosts in trees west of the junction of Preston Road and Fire Route 23 near his former home at Belmont Lake. One night he counted 118 turkeys lining the branches.

 

Diet

Turkeys eat just about everything. This includes acorns, beech nuts, hickory nuts, fruit, insects, worms, snails and even amphibians. Tom Northey of Little Britain told me of a hunter friend who was cleaning a bird and found Leopard Frogs in its crop. They will also eat crops such as wheat and corn, which does not go over well with farmers.

Turkeys can also turn up at backyard feeders. Dyson recalls a behaviour he dubbed the ‘Kenturkey Derby’. “The birds would see me go outside with a tub of bird seed. After I went back in the house, they would come running from 100 metres across the field to gorge themselves.” Dennis and Lyn Johnson’s Stony Lake birds will come right up and practically eat out of their hands.

Unfortunately, the turkey’s taste in foods can become problematic. Dennis explains. “Last year, my wife Lynn made her usual fall/winter outdoor pots of greenery. Included in the arrangement were several sumac heads. We’d never seen them eating sumac in the wild, but they sure enjoyed eating them from Lynn’s arrangement. After replenishing the sumac three or four times, Lynn decided that the turkeys could go down the road and get their own!”

Wild Turkeys at Armour Road condominiums (Betty Mitchell)

 

Predators

An abundance of nutritious turkey meat has not gone unnoticed by predators. Several people I emailed have seen coyotes stalking the birds. Raptors, too, are getting in on the action. Rick Stankiewicz of Keene writes, “On the edge of an open field at daybreak, I watched as a Great Horned Owl attacked and tried to fly off with a turkey decoy!” Tom Northey saw a Northern Harrier grab one in a hayfield, and this past fall his daughter came across a Bald Eagle eating a turkey.

Tim Dyson watched a female Northern Goshawk attack one of eight wild turkeys as they fed on scattered seed behind a house. “Once the hawk had seized the much heavier turkey by the rump, the other turkeys quickly surrounded the two and put on a rather aggressive display by spreading their tails and dragging their wings in an manner not unlike their courtship display. This intimidation seemed to work, since the hawk soon released her grip and sped off. The turkey fared well – only minus a few feathers!”

The interplay between turkeys and competitors for food is also interesting. Rick Stankiewicz has seen numerous interactions between turkeys and White-tailed Deer.” They always seem curious and tolerant of each other, but not in a friendly or playful way.” Trent’s Jennifer Baici also has an interest in these interactions. She is studying flocks of turkeys that congregate with groups of deer and hopes to learn more about the social dynamics between the two.

Turkeys and geese also interact in curious ways. Laura Summerfeldt, who lives near Keene, writes: “A few years ago in late autumn, we saw an extraordinary spectacle. A flock of Canada Geese had settled in the corn field adjacent to our house. The resident flock of a dozen or so turkeys withdrew to the hedgerow. The geese stayed on. The next afternoon we happened to be watching and observed that the turkeys “rallied” and en masse CHARGED the flock of geese in an organized manner. With wings outspread, they ran across the field in a line. Truly, it was like a cavalry charge. They drove the geese to the far end of the field and then resumed feeding!”

Wild Turkeys at Dodsworth Island – Feb. 2017- Rob Welsh

Hunting

Thanks to their abundance, there is now both a spring and fall turkey hunt. In the spring, only males can be targeted. This puts less pressure on the population, since the toms are highly polygamous and can impregnate up to 15 hens. Hunting turkeys is not easy, however. Turkeys are extremely wary and have excellent eyesight and hearing. The success rate for both seasons is only one bird for every three hunters. For hunters who are successful, the meat is delicious and close to domestic turkey in taste.

Population study

Part of Jennifer Baici’s research is to investigate the usefulness of citizen science platforms such as eBird and iNaturalist in estimating turkey population size. This winter, she is running a pilot project in Peterborough County and is requesting turkey sightings that fall between December 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018. This can be done either by adding observations to eBird or by submitting photos of any flocks seen to the Peterborough Wild Turkey Count project on iNaturalist. You will need to sign up for the project first. Be sure to include where you saw the birds and how many there were. Eventually, Jennifer hopes to expand the project and explore whether citizen science platforms can be applied to estimate Wild Turkey population size for larger areas, such as the province of Ontario – so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 022017
 

April 2 – I heard a Wilson’s Snipe quietly calling in the marshy area on the Parkway trail, east of Chemong, directly underneath the WalMart parking lot. Also, 3 Northern Leopard Frogs hopping along the new not-yet-opened road that skirts east of the airport as well as 3 Killdeer in the adjacent fields.   Marilyn Freeman

Wilson’s Snipe – Greg Piasetzki

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 2 – Cottonwood Drive this morning, we heard a couple of Eastern Phoebes calling. It must be spring! Rob Moos

Eastern Phoebe (David Frank)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 30 – Two Great Blue Herons flying over the Cavan Bog and another north of Whitby.  John Fautley

March 30 – I saw my first Great Blue Heron today. It was flying north over the Otonabee River near Lakefield. Annamarie Beckel

Great Blue Heron – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 64 third year Trent ecology students surveyed the Otonabee River from Lakefield to south of Lock 19, on March 24th.  From 9:00 am to 10:30 am, they did 8 stations north of Trent and from 1 pm to 3 pm, 8 stations south of Trent. Susan Chow

Here are the results: Bufflehead 95, Canada Geese 141, Common Goldeneye 6, Common Merganser 8, Gadwall 1, Greater Scaup 1, Hooded Merganser 86, Lesser Scaup 7, Long-tailed Duck 5, Mallard 369, Wood Duck 3

Long-tailed-Duck – Mar.22 2014 – Little Lake – – DJ McPhail

 

Male Gadwall (photo from Wikimedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On March 17 and 18, there were 50 to 60 Bohemian Waxwings flying back and forth between the conifers along the Otonabee River and two Siberian crab apple trees. The birds were just north of the Ninth Line.

Susan Chow

Bohemian Waxwing – Cow Island – Jan. 24, 2015 – via Sylvia Cashmore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 222017
 

It was a good first day of spring for river sightings on our stretch of the Indian River. The pair of Canada Geese, first seen on February 26, came up onto the back area to check out the availability of grass. Conclusion – not much there! The geese tend to come up much later, when they have a young family, to feast on the long lush grasses before the summer cut. A male Hooded Merganser spent a bit of time resting and preening on a fallen tree trunk in the river, and later a male Bufflehead, and a male Wood Duck were seen sharing the same tree trunk. We don’t see the Wood Ducks very often so it was a real treat.

Roll on spring!

Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Male Hooded Merganser (Karl Egressy)

Wood Duck – Jeff Keller

Mar 062017
 

On the morning of March 3, my son witnessed two Bald Eagles attacking a Canada Goose in flight. The goose landed in the Crowe River and while landing, swatted the eagle off his side. The second eagle stayed above and did not attack the goose. My son grabbed the binoculars and saw that the goose was injured. The two eagles stayed in the area high above but did swoop down periodically, and I was able to see them with the binoculars as I was skeptical that they were Bald Eagles. We then went on the Internet to see if they frequent this area, as we have been up here since 1980 and this is our first sighting.
Robin Galllagher, Crowe River

Bald Eagles – Jan. 31, 2016, Simmons Ave, Peterborough – Trudy Gibson

Feb 282017
 

Our pair of Canada Geese arrived today, along with a single male Bufflehead. The geese do not nest nearby as far as we know, but they regularly patrol our stretch of the Indian River in the spring to see off any rivals, using our old dock as a base. The position of the dock gives them a long, clear view of the river, both upstream and down. Happy news.

Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

A nesting pair of Canada Geese – March 2008 – Drew Monkman

Feb 272017
 

I haven’t submitted a sighting in a while but thought of it today when a lovely pair of Trumpeter Swans appeared on the Pigeon River, just north of Omemee, among the usual Canada Geese. They don’t appear to have bands or yellow tabs on their wings so I’m assuming they are wild. This is on the Pigeon river, just north of Omemee.

Karen Cooper, Omemee

A pair of Trumpeter Swans on the Pigeon River – February 25, 2017 – Karen Cooper

 

Jun 212016
 

I went out early both Saturday and Sunday (June 18 and 19, 2016) on Lower Buckhorn lake and took these pictures.

Robin Blake

Wild Rose - June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake

Wild Rose – June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

White Admiral -June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake

White Admiral -June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

White Admiral -June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake (9)

White Admiral -June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake (9)

Slaty Skimmer - June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake

Slaty Skimmer – June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

Osprey - June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake

Osprey – June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

Northern Water Snake - June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake

Northern Water Snake – June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

Four-spotted Skimmer - June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake

Four-spotted Skimmer – June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

Eastern Kingbird - June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake

Eastern Kingbird – June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

Canada Geese - June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake

Canada Geese – June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

Blue Flag - June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake

Blue Flag – June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

Bald Eagle - June 18-19, 2016 - Lower Buckhorn Lake - Robin Blake

Bald Eagle – June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

Mar 112016
 

The meltwater pond at Mather’s Corners, located at the junction of County Road 2 and Drummond Line, is once again attracting a variety of waterfowl. Several hundred Canada Geese are there right now, along with dozens of Mallards. In addition to the species listed below, there are also small numbers of American Black Ducks and Northern Pintails.

Gadwall (Anas strepera)
– Reported Mar 14, 2016 11:38 by Warren Dunlop
– Mather’s Corners Meltwater Pond, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Pair – Male with light greyish tertials and black rump/tail.”

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) (1)
– Reported Mar 10, 2016 15:33 by Luke Berg
– Mather’s Corners Meltwater Pond, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Media: 3 Photos
– Comments: “Continuing adult white morph.”

Cackling Goose (Richardson’s) (Branta hutchinsii) (1)
– Reported Mar 10, 2016 15:33 by Luke Berg
– Mather’s Corners Meltwater Pond, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Media: 2 Photos

American Wigeon (Anas americana) (1)
– Reported Mar 11, 2016 10:10 by Martin Parker
– Mather’s Corners Meltwater Pond, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

SOME OTHER WATERFOWL OF INTEREST SEEN RECENTLY IN THE KAWARTHAS:

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) (1)
– Reported Mar 10, 2016 17:19 by Warren Dunlop
– Humphries Line, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Presumed continuing. Observed here previously.”

Redhead (Aythya americana) (5)
– Reported Mar 10, 2016 13:27 by Warren Dunlop
– Peterborough–Little Lake Cemetery, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Males with brick red heads, gray sides, black breasts and rump, and light greyish blue bills.”

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) (1)
– Reported Mar 10, 2016 16:40 by Warren Dunlop
– Rice Lake–Holiday Pines Park, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Female – lacking distinct white chin and well defined border between neck and breast of female COME. <br />Associating with large group of COME.”

American Black Duck - Karl Egressy

American Black Duck – Karl Egressy

Pair of Northern Pintail - Karl Egressy

Pair of Northern Pintail – Karl Egressy

Male Gadwall (photo from Wikimedia)

Male Gadwall (photo from Wikimedia)

Snow Geese (Marcel Boulay)

Snow Geese (Marcel Boulay)

American Wigeon - Alan D. Wilson

American Wigeon – Alan D. Wilson

Cackling Goose (small bird) with two Canada Geese - Brendan Boyd

Cackling Goose (small bird) with two Canada Geese – Brendan Boyd

Male Redhead (Wikimedia)

Male Redhead (Wikimedia)

Mute Swan (photo: Drew Monkman)

Mute Swan (photo: Drew Monkman)

May 272015
 

As previously posted, there were two Canada Geese families grazing out the back of our property adjacent to the Indian River on Sunday, May 17th. One pair had three goslings, the other had eight. We also had another brief sighting of a family with several young the next morning at about 7am.

Mid-afternoon on Tuesday 19th, following a walk down to the dock, Peter discovered we had a stowaway.  A tiny gosling had got into our canoe, and with the sides so smooth and slippery, the little fellow couldn’t get out.  We had no idea how long it had been there, but thankfully the depth of the canoe had provided much needed shelter from chilly winds and maybe even a cold night.  So, what to do?

Gosling in boat - Peter Armstrong

Gosling stranded in boat – Peter Armstrong

We brought the gosling into the house, placed it in a deep container lined with soft bedding and partially covered with a folded towel, and initially fed it fresh grasses and shredded organic lettuce in some water.  The gosling had a very healthy appetite.  After checking various websites for suggestions, we added some water-soaked crushed Cheerios, a mirror for (pretend) company, and a stuffed sock, nicely warmed in the clothes drier, in place of a cuddly toy for comfort.  The mirror proved to be a source of annoyance, but the sock was a hit.  One website also said that young geese and ducks actually like a cuddle, close to the chest, as a calming device, and that too worked after an initial upset.  I enjoyed that bit very much!

Following helpful suggestions from our neighbours (with whom good friendship and love of nature are equally shared) Peter checked a website www.ontariowildliferescue.ca which listed wildlife centres authorised by the MNR. The next morning, he phoned one of the closer wildlife refuges that can accommodate water birds, “Shades of Hope” in Pefferlaw, near Lake Simcoe.  They were happy to take the bird, but advised that if en route we came across an area of water where there was a similar family of Canada Geese we could drop him into the water and his natural instinct would be to go and join them. It seems this doesn’t work for ducks (they reject any that are not their own), but Canada Geese will accept any gosling and are known to actually steal from other pairs. That being the case, we decided to try and locate a local pair that might still be on our river or, if not, somewhere in the vicinity. I was keen to keep the youngster on its home patch if possible.

Further help and collaboration from next door allowed Peter to set up on a better placed dock than our own as a stake-out to scout for geese, with canoe at the ready if needed, while I toured the Warsaw area by car. I only came across one lone goose on the river in the village, so no joy there.  However, as luck would have it while I was gone, a family group of two adults and seven goslings were spotted about 300m away from where Peter was stationed, and they were slowly making their way downstream towards him.  It took a long while, but when they got closer and settled for a while about 100m away, he was able to make his way cautiously through the tall grasses in the marsh, carrying the foundling in a lidded stack-a-box, and managed to get just slightly up-river of them to release the little one.  As soon as the gosling hit water, it started an incessant chirping, and almost immediately Mom swam over from the opposite bank to reclaim the lost one, bringing the offspring count to eight.  We had most likely found the right family!  And we were treated to a fabulous “float-by”, captured by camera, to top it all off

So, a happy ending to what could have been a sad little story.

Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Gosling back with its family - Stephenie Armstrong

The “lost” gosling now back with its family – Stephenie Armstrong

 

 

Postscript:

This morning, May 25th, the two families seen on May 17th came up onto our back area again to browse, one family with eight goslings, the second with four, not three as earlier reported.  They stayed for about two hours.  Initially, the two families remained quite separate as before, with no interaction between the two groups.  At some point, the families moved closer together, and it soon became apparent that two goslings had teamed up with the smaller group, with six now in each family.  There was little sign of any aggression from the adults, other than the odd neck bending, and when the families returned to the river, each pair of adults sailed off with six goslings each.  I wonder which family now has our rescued gosling!

Canada Geese families grazing - Peter Armstrong

The two Canada Geese families with four and six goslings respectively – Peter Armstrong

Reconfigurated family - now with six goslings! - Stephenie Armstrong

One of the two reconfigurated families – now each with six goslings! – Stephenie Armstrong

 

May 202015
 

Our latest sighting involves the ever present Canada Geese, but it was their behaviour that I thought was interesting. On the afternoon of May 17th, we had two Canada Geese families grazing in our riverside “meadow”. One pair had just three goslings, but then a second pair came up with eight in tow. The two groups kept apart but with no posturing, just pasturing! It has been several years since we’ve had geese dining on our back area, and on that occasion there were three families. They arrived together and left together, but while on land, just as yesterday, each family maintained their distance, and there was no interaction between the groups.

Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Canada Geese with goslings  - D. Monkman

Canada Geese with goslings – D. Monkman