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Vocabulary of Wild Turkeys

This Turkey Tuesday is about turkey talk. When we think about the vocabulary of the wild turkey, gobbling obviously comes to mind as it’s the call us turkey hunters cherish. But the late Lovett Williams, who spent years studying turkey calls, suggested that at least 28 different calls comprised the turkey’s vocabulary! He described calls based on their pitch (frequency), intensity (loudness), attack (beginning), and release (ending) – he also created sonograms that allow one to visualize a bird’s call. Specific to gobbles, the attack is the loudest part of the call, followed by a release that trails off in volume. It is believed that calls like the gobble are designed to first draw attention and then allow other birds to identify the source (distance and direction) of the call. One thing that’s really interesting to me is the sonograms that Lovett produced over 40 years ago, which you can see in the 2nd image. Note that the amount of black in the call denoted as “A” corresponds to how loud the gobble was, versus what is depicted in “B” – a tom close to him vs one that was farther off. The 3rd image is a digital sonogram from our recent work monitoring gobbling activity across many states – the “213” call is more intense (louder) than the “212” call – similar to the A vs B comparison in the 2nd image. It’s also interesting to note that in the 3rd image, the call that occurs after the 213 gobble is a hen yelp – it falls directly into the same frequency as the gobbles, which Lovett also noted in his research. It makes sense that the primary mating calls of males and females have the same pitch! The take home is something I took from reading Lovett’s writings – that is, studying sonograms and features of turkey calls offers us a chance to better understand the complexity of “turkey talk”.

Photo of tom by Stephen Spurlock.

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