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Chaos Before the Calm

This Turkey Tuesday is about the chaos that precedes the calm. Throughout wild turkey range, the breeding season is either already in full swing or is ramping up to begin over the upcoming weeks. Many of us are seeing small groups of toms strutting together for hens, and these toms seem calm and tolerant of each other. Well, as the saying goes, “when you have chaos, you have a chance to create order”. The relative calm we’re now seeing in groups of toms only results from the ferocity of the fights that occur leading up to the breeding season. Those fights often begin with posturing, loud purring, and escalate from there – Lovett Williams termed the calling that ensued the “fighting rattle”. Toms chase each other, hit each other with the leading edge of their wings, jump on and into one another, and attempt to otherwise wrestle and push to gain leverage and assert dominance. It’s common for toms to injure each other during these fights, and although uncommon, serious injuries and even death can occur. Many early authors decades ago noted how loud a serious fight amongst toms is, speculating that such noise was intended to draw a crowd so that other birds in the area knew someone was testing the flock’s dominance hierarchy. Who knows if this speculation is correct, but if you’ve ever seen and heard toms fight, they do make some noise! The take home is, the calm we’re seeing within groups of toms displaying for hens only came about through sometimes intense fights to “create order”.

Pic by Nancy Lee.

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