Sunday, April 12, 2015
Hot To Trot
Today was promised to be clear and warm with temperatures climbing into the mid fifties F. Overnight was clear and cold. We found heavy frost and frozen ground early on. A group of turkeys working across our mowed field surprised us. Previously we had seen only a single bird that appeared to be suffering as a possible result of the deep and lasting snow cover. These seven birds were doing what turkeys do at this time of year.
Two of the males were in constant display for the several minutes that it took for the group to cross in front of us. Fanned tail feathers, foot drumming and stiffened body feathers must require a great expenditure of energy over an unbelievably long period of time. The top of the males featherless head appears swollen and bright blue. His snood hangs down over his beak and is red. A careful look at the first picture will find both of these bright colors.
Birds have made a number of adaptations in order to make flight possible. Their sexual parts shrink and remain dormant for most of the year. Extended courtship rituals are necessary to wake up the sleeping bits and get them ready to function. Unlike many mammals, male turkeys are usually devoid of seed. They need time to prepare for mating. While these two males were shaking their tail feathers, the girls were simply feeding apparently ignoring the show around them. Actually their parts were also waking up but the girls need tremendous amounts of nourishment in order to fuel the huge egg output that is soon to follow. We were amazed at how quickly this breeding behavior followed the melting of the snow.
A group of deer were also heading toward the rising sun. The presence of the deer was closely watched by the hen turkeys but it caused them no alarm. The deer mated last fall and are now feeding heavily to support their growing fawns.
Becky thought that she saw tree swallows flying about. That meant that it was time for me to clean out the nest boxes. Despite the continuing presence of snow, this bird has already claimed her home. I could have disturbed her and cleaned out the old nest but decided to leave her alone. There is plenty of room for her to build a new nest on top of the old nest.
The lower grass nest was started by bluebirds. Our early drought last year interrupted their food supply. They left our area in search of a better place to rear their young. Wrens built their stick nest above the abandoned bluebird nest. How those small birds cut and move all of those comparatively large sticks remains a puzzle. It must be quite a chore to work the sticks through the hole in the nest box.
When I first found the beady tan fluff in a nest box, I thought that it was insulation pulled from the walls of our old beat camper. Soaked with a winters worth of mouse urine, it did not invite close inspection. We have since determined that milkweed parachutes are the actual source of the material. The mice may eat the milkweed seeds before rolling up the parachutes for bedding. Here again the effort expended to move all of that material up the post supporting the nest box is impressive.
The day was every bit as pleasant as forecast. All but one of the nest boxes are ready for new tenants. We go to bed tonight tired, a little sore and happy. Garden cleanup continues and spinach will be planted tomorrow weather permitting.