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It has been a long time since I put up a turkey post. In a way this is appropriate, since people other than hunters and farmers usually only think about the majestic fowl around holiday time when the sharp axe comes out (or–more likely—when one wanders over to Krogers to check out the price of Butterballs). Meanwhile live turkeys have been slogging away through the long winter. For farm turkeys this has meant dull days perched in dark coops huddled together for warmth while living on daily water and grain hand-outs from the farmer. For wild turkeys the winter is more like a Russian war novel. The wind, ice, and snow are enlivened by desperate hunger and by fear of omnipresent predators stalking through the bare trees of the frozen forests. The cold nights are filled with the howl of the wind and the coyotes while the days are filled with desperately scraping the dead ground for remnants of food.
But that was winter–spring is here, and with it, mating season. This time of year highlights one of the signature features of turkeys wild and domestic—gobbling. In fact today’s post is really an auditory one. Here is a movie of a Tom turkey gobbling!
The gobble is rightfully the most famous turkey vocalization. It is similar in nature to the humpback’s song or the deafening yodel of the siamang: a magnificent declaration of self which proclaims dominance and health to females. This ululating yodel alerts all nearby hens to the fact that an alpha male tom turkey is in the area and is at the top of his game (it also lets rival males know where to go for a fight and hunters where to go for a meal, so it is a true and heartfelt declaration of bravery and lust on the part of the issuer).
Gobbles are hardly the only turkey vocalizations. Turkeys both wild and domestic are extremely garrulous characters and produce many different calls for a variety of reasons. Here is a list of the more common turkey vocabulary from the national Wild Turkey Federation. By using a variety of tools and the full range of the human voice a tiny number of truly expert hunters can produce most of these noises, however turkeys are clever enough that they don’t usually fall for such guile.