It was surprising to find the needles in disarray. A pass with the roto-tiller wouldn’t have caused much more disturbance. Old partially decomposed needles have been mixed with fresh and left in closely spaced piles. Between the piles are patches of bare ground. It’s pretty obvious what happened.
This was the work of a flock of Wild Turkeys. Turkeys have an instinctive need to scratch the ground when foraging for food. Even if they were standing on top of a pile of grain, they would periodically stop to scratch. The process of scratching is pretty much stylized. The turkey raises its head, shifts one foot and drags the toenails along the ground and then does the same with the other foot. Two scratches are typical, but four scratches are not uncommon. Scratch marks are very common in areas where they have reached the soil.
I’m not sure what they were after. Fungi were unusually abundant beneath the pines this fall, so that may have been the attraction. I’ve never found insects or worms abundant in the pine duff. I may never know for sure.
There’s been a flock of about 30 hens roaming the neighborhood. I think they‘re probably the ones responsible for this. They must have been pretty busy birds, since they accomplished this task in a single day. The row of trees stretches about 250 feet and the turkeys didn’t miss any of the needle bed. It’s just odd that after years of turkey flocks loafing and preening beneath the pines, they suddenly decided to tear things up looking for food.