Thursday afternoon I was walking from the barn to the house, and I saw three young poults pecking at the grass, but where was their mama? As I continued walking, I thought I'd see her behind some bushes. No, she wasn't behind the bushes. She wasn't behind the weeds. She wasn't across the lawn. I found myself circling around the poults, wondering where the mama turkey had gone. The three babies were sticking together foraging for food, just as I'd seen them doing for the three short weeks since they were hatched. But, there was no turkey mama.
"Mike!" I yelled across the yard to where he was putting together a movable turkey pen in front of the barn. "These baby turkeys don't seem to have their mama with them. Have you seen her?"
"No, they were wandering around by themselves this morning."
I remembered that every night she would snuggle up with the poults in the tall weeds next to the squash patch, so I walked over there to see if I could find her. The odd assortment of weeds were four to five feet tall, and as I moved them aside from the place I'd seen her last night, I gasped. Her long neck was stretched out on the ground in front of her body with her head laying on its side. One of her wings was fanned out unnaturally.
"Oh, no!" I gasped. "She's dead! I found her -- the mama turkey -- she's dead."
Mike came running over. He lifted her limp body and turned her over. One leg was stripped of meat, and the breast was bruised. What could have done this? We had no idea. The area is fenced, so it would have to be something fairly small to fit between the pickets across the front of our property. Our guard dog has been staying in this area almost all the time lately. Perhaps that's why she was not completely eaten?
"The babies! We have to catch the babies!" I screamed towards the house, "Jonathan! Jonathan! Come quick!" With the cooler days we've been having, the windows were all open, so I knew he would hear me. He stuck his head out the door. I called, "This mama turkey is dead. We have to catch the babies. I just saw them run into that flower bed. We have to catch them now!"
We forgot about the dead turkey laying in the grass as Mike, Jonathan, and I circled the flower bed in the middle of our front yard. The poults were hiding amongst the spent gladiolas, nasturtiums, and feverfew plants. Jonathan quickly snagged two of them, but the third proved to be a challenge. He ran from the flower bed into a patch of weeds around two hickory trees. I took the two poults from Jonathan and put them in a little dog crate in the barn. The three of us then spent fifteen minutes searching flower beds and weed patches trying to find the third one. Finally, I decided to bring the little dog crate into the yard, hoping the poults' chirping would attract the third one. It worked! Within five minutes, the last baby came running from the weeds near the hickories. He ran right past the chirping siblings in the dog crate and into the weeds next to the squash patch.
Finding a baby bird the size of a baseball in that patch of weeds would be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, so I suggested that Mike start pulling weeds in the area where we thought the poult had run. Remember, they're four to five feet tall. We were seeing and hearing nothing. Thirty minutes into our turkey rescue mission, we still had only the first two babies. I moved them closer to the tall weeds, but still sitting in the middle of an open area of cut lawn, and I went inside the house. I kept looking outside every few minutes, and about twenty minutes later, I finally saw the lone poult circling the little dog crate.
"Jonathan," I called to my son in the kitchen. "He's back!" We quickly came up with a plan for catching him, and we headed outside. We tried to keep weeds and trees and other obstacles between us and the poult, so he couldn't see us approaching. We were within a few feet when he saw us, and he made a bee-line to his dead mama. He tried to lift her wing with his little head and crawl to the safety of her breast, and that's when I wanted to cry. I've never seen an animal orphaned. He didn't understand that his mama was dead. Why didn't she lift her wing, so he could hide? Jonathan was on the ball and grabbed the little one just as he tried to run back into the weeds.
|The three orphaned poults are a mix of heritage breeds.|
I'm worried though. I don't know that we've done any favors for the little ones. We once tried to save some guinea keets whose mama kept losing them, and they all died within a couple days. Birds visually imprint on their mama when they hatch, and they have a very hard time living without her. I don't think it's a simple matter of providing food, physical warmth, and protection. The little birds are accustomed to running around freely in the grass and eating bugs and being warmed by their mama's body. Now their whole world has changed.