Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turkey Scratchings in the Pines

When we first bought our property, I planted a double row of White Pines between the yard and the field east of the house. The pines have since grown into some large trees. Pine needles form a thick layer in the shade beneath their branches. I use some of the needles for mulch around the blueberries and an occasional animal will dig up some food item, but for the most part this layer of needles has remained practically undisturbed for years.

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.


  1. I live in Europe, so I never had the opportunity to see a wild turkey...

    But I did cover the wild turkey on my Birds of the World blog, may you would like to visit: