Wild Turkey Hen Fight

It was 5AM. Other than the last quarter moon there was no light in the woods behind my house. As it was a Sunday morning, there was hope that nearby route 9 would be quieter than usual. A flock of 18-20 wild turkeys have been visiting the woods here in the last few weeks. They are so shy that I can’t even be inside the blind that I have had set up in these woods for nearly 3 years. Somehow, they know that I am in there. As soon as they finish running up the hill to the area were the spilled seed from the bird feeders can be found, they sense that I am there and run off. So, in order to record some of the sounds from this flock I set up the SASS microphones and the digital recorder in the dark of pre-dawn. Setting an arbitrary recording level and hoping that nothing would be louder than this setting is something of an art and just plain dumb luck.

After returning to the house and examining the recordings I was astonished that there were no gobbles from displaying male turkeys. There was however, something amazing and like nothing that I have ever heard before. Apparently, there were at least two hens that were not having a good morning. These “two” hens began clucking and smacking one another with their wings — I think. From the time stamp on the recording this would have transpired around 7:30AM. A male Eastern Phoebe is flying around in the background doing some interesting calls. Some are flight song segments and others are more typical song elements. He, too, sounds rather upset.

Wild Turkey hens fighting. Berkeley, County, WV. April 4, 2010, ©Wil Hershberger.

Early in the week this large male “Tom” was displaying for several hens. I was recording using a remote recording technique. Here the mics were outside and a cable was strung into my house, a great blind, to the recorder where I could easily monitor the recording session and make recording level adjustments as needed. Listening carefully to this recording you might be able to hear the low frequency sounds that the Tom’s wings make while he is gobbling. There is also a low pitched sound after the first and last gobbles that seems to be coming from the Tom. I can only speculate that this must be some low volume, low pitched sound that he is producing for the hens. Or, perhaps this is associated with inflating his air sacs for the next gobble.

He certainly looks regal with his blue head and dark iridescent plumage. He droops his wings, the tips just touching the ground, as if to cover his legs. He lifts the feathers on his body to puff himself up looking much bigger than when he is at rest. He also fans that magnificent tail. In younger males the center tail feathers are longer than the rest of the tail. They really stand out in the crowd. The older, breeding aged, Tom’s tails are even at the tips.

Wild Turkey Tom gobbling. Berkeley, County, WV. April 2, 2010, ©Wil Hershberger.

Comments

  1. Wonderful! I’ve never witnessed a hen fighting another hen. The weird low-pitched sounds, I have no idea what they are. Maybe it is from air sacs in its body. Those wing slaps sound pretty powerful.

  2. Bill,
    That is a great observation. I will have to do some analysis of the stereo recording to see if there is a spatial separation of the chip call and the drumming of the male. That would be cool if the Tom is responding that quickly to the hen’s call. Intriguing.
    Wil

  3. i was listening to the turkey gobble recording you have, and if the light “dull chirping” right before the gobble is what your referring to, well to me that noise sounds like a hen that is “inviting” a tom to party with her. i hunt for those bearded beauties in the spring, but watch them year round. i’ve seen hens coo and yelp, in a very submissive low volume when the tom is very close. otherwise the light yelp your hearing there, is very loud and broadcasts a very high pitched, scratchy yelp which usually gets the toms attention. if he’s interested in what she has to say then he’s usually on his way to find her, calling back and forth til they meet up. i took a nice bird 4-21-10 at 7 pm, 5-6 minutes after he gobbled and i called loudly once, and then began to call softer and softer until he was 20yds away. another facinating sound is when the tom begins “spitting” when excited by the possibility of breeding a hen. the final calling i did was no more than light purrs, telling him that my hen decoy was interested in having his little jakes. maybe not one of the smartest birds, but very weary and cautious, tough to get close unless absolutley motionless. these birds can pick up a finger twitch at 50 yds, and if the do spot something out of sorts, they are outta there!!
    just for fun to make them gobble almost everytime, get a barred owl call, locate where the turkeys are roosting at night, then, early next moring, sneek out within 100 yds, and just at daybreak begins, blow the call and just listen to that symphony of goobles. almost every male will tell ya where he is. it’s an ideal way to get close to bird very early, just be super still and out of sight. good luck, and good birding to all…

  4. Will,
    Great capture of both the gobbles and hen fight. I am a wildlife videographer and have been filming the wild turkey for over 26 years trying to study its unique habits and especially their voices and communications. I`m working intently now to capture all I can especially the “hens” voices. Do you have any recordings of hens while talking, if so, I would love to hear them. If you do please contact me if possible…. Keep up the great work.
    Denny

  5. Wow, Wil, I’ve never heard those sounds from turkeys, but it does sound like a fight, complete with body slams. I do have to wonder if the fact that the phoebe is on high alert has anything at all to do with the sounds the turkeys are making. He sounds like he’s dive-bombing a hawk. The turkeys sound like sandhill cranes!

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