RANSOMVILLE – Twenty-five days before turkeys will claim a place of honor on Thanksgiving tables, the underappreciated, misnamed bird that nearly became our national symbol was the focus of attention in the Nature Center at Bond Lake Park in Ransomville.
Bond Lake Beautification Committee member Linda Harvey led the Sunday program “Let’s Talk Turkey,” a fast-moving overview that focused on the bird’s sounds, often the only way people in the woods and grasslands of the park will know they are near the wily bird.
If you wanted to call a wild turkey, you might try the time-honored “gobble-gobble-gobble,” as demonstrated with enthusiasm by three youngsters from Wilson. But as the Wortkoetter brothers – Benjamin, 8; William, 5; and Henry, 4 – soon learned from Harvey, the turkey’s vocal repertoire is much more varied.
“Gobble is one thing the turkey says, but that’s not all a turkey says,” she said. After a brief overview of the turkeys’ habits – they can fly, but, unless startled, prefer to limit their flying to their overnight roosts in trees – she described a wide range of calls, starting with the piercing and complicated call referred to as a gobble, emitted by the male turkey, or tom. With the help of her son, Brian Harvey, and his smartphone, Linda Harvey described and then demonstrated everything from a loud, staccato cluck turkeys use to call to each other to a low, musical, rolling purr they emit while happily feeding.
Using simple materials, including a plastic couplers from a plumbing supply store, a half-circle of plastic to cover half the pipe, and a bit of stretchy thin plastic, everyone at the table made a workable turkey call. By using different mouth positions and breath strength, people coaxed sounds from the homemade calls ranging from a shrill whistle, probably more useful for chasing away turkeys than attracting them, to quiet hoots that sounded positively wild.
Armed with their homemade calls and a selection of commercial calls, including a wood pointer that could be clicked on or creaked across a circle of slate to produce an array of natural bird sounds, the group headed out into the park on the glorious, bright autumn day. When the broad, mulched trails dipped into puddles, the boys splashed happily through the water as the adults, including their parents, Ben and Becky Wortkoetter, picked their way around the pools.
After a short trek, the group stopped, sounded their calls and stood still, listening.
“I heard something! Over there!” one of the boys shrieked, and the group headed in that direction. After another stop, they traced the answering turkey call to a clump of bushes, and at Linda Harvey’s urging, William dashed toward it. There were cries of surprise when Harvey’s daughter, Candy, emerged from the brush, a turkey call in her pocket. “That was you!” said Henry, wide-eyed.
“They love being outside,” said Becky Wortkoetter, as the group headed back to the Nature Center. William “was most excited about coming today,” she said.
Carol Sawyer, of the Town of Lewiston, attended the session “just to learn more about turkeys because I live in the neighborhood here, and I see them all the time.” She and Linda Harvey agreed that this year, there seem to be more turkeys around.
The bird, which is indigenous to the Americas, got that name from Europeans. Whether they named it a “Turkey hen,” compared to the European guinea hen, or just believed that the bird originated in Turkey is no longer known.
Although Benjamin Franklin never publicly campaigned for the wild turkey to be the new country’s national bird, in a letter to his daughter, he criticized the bald eagle and called the turkey, “in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America ... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”