Eastern wild turkey can often be seen in Stonefly and other areas in the Cashiers Highlands Plateau. The adult male, called a gobbler or tom, may measure up to 4 feet tall at maturity
and weigh more than 20 pounds. Its long tail feathers, are tipped with chestnut brown and tail tips with dark buff or chocolate brown. In contrast, the breast feathers are tipped in black. Other body feathers are characterized by rich, metallic, copper\bronze iridescence. The males have a dewlap, or fleshy growth hanging under the chin. Growths, called caruncles, are located on the side and front of the neck, and a fleshy projection, called a snood, rises above the bill. A beard, like bristles on a broom, hangs down from the chest. Males also have spurs .24” to 1.25” long on the lower legs.
A mature female, called a hen, may be nearly as tall but is usually lighter, weighing between 8 and 12 pounds. Females are similar in color to the males but more brown, and the metallic reflections are not as brilliant. The head of the female is covered with smaller, dark feathers extending up from the back of the neck. Females usually lack the caruncles , beards and spurs of the males. Turkeys forage in flocks searching for acorns, beechnuts, cherries, and ash seeds while the young poults eat mainly insects.
The basic social organization of these flocks is determined by a pecking order with the most dominate bird at the top and the least on the bottom. They have home ranges, not territories, and they fight for dominance, recognizing individuals within the pecking order, while sharing overlapping home ranges.
Hens become secretive while searching for a site to nest prior to laying eggs. Nests are shallow depressions formed mostly by scratching rather than by planned construction. It usually consists of an arrangement of twigs and leaves in sites chosen for their dense underbrush that allows the hen a view of the surrounding area and gives some protection from predators. Laying a clutch of 10 - 12 eggs takes about 2 weeks. A hen will incubate for 26—28 days by sitting quietly and moving about once an hour to turn the eggs. Actual hatching begins with pipping—the poult rotating within the shell, chipping a complete break around the large end of the egg. Hens respond to the pipping sounds by making soft clucks at random, a form of communication which begins to imprint the poults to the hen. This vocal communication between hen and poults still in the eggs is an important part of the hatching process and is critical to survival of the young. This imprinting, which continues for another 24 hours after the poult hatches, happens only at this time and cannot be reversed. Damp poults clumsily free themselves from the egg but are fully dry and coordinated so they can follow the hen away from the nest within 12 to 24 hours after hatching.
By age 14 weeks, male and female poults are distinguishable by body size and plumage. They have formed separate pecking orders although still dominated by the hen until all males have finally left the brood group to form their own social units. By fall, the pecking order of the sibling groups has been established and the young flocks are ready to enter the social organization of the surrounding population. The body growth of juveniles ends by the beginning of winter when the flocks, separated by age and sex class, settle into winter range.
If you visit Stonefly please drive slowly and watch for the wild turkey.