Yesterday around noon, the horses were enjoying the shade and fans in the barn on our first really hot, humid day of summer. I went out to give them a couple of flakes of hay for lunch, but only Siete stuck her head out of her stall to greet me. When I looked in Silk’s stall, mama horse was standing in the cool darknes staring out the backdoor, absolutely mesmerized by something in my neighbor’s yard.
There he was, the biggest, most magnificent Tom Turkey, surrounded by his harem of hens. This fellow was huge, and showing off for his ladies. His tail was as beautiful as a peacock’s. I stood next to Silk for a while with my arm resting on her back, enjoying the show. The air was full of turkey love, romantic gobbling and murmured sweetly clucked nothings. Inspired, I ran back into the house to get my camera . I managed to get pretty close to Emperor Tom before he became protective of the hens and started to shoo them into the bushes.
It made me think how similar this male turkey was to a stallion with his herd. I was motivated to do a little research and came up with some pretty interesting information. Turkeys are known as “earth eagles” to Native Americans. They are associated with feminine energy and shared blessings, using the blessings of the earth for the greatest good of the flock. Female turkeys nest together in one big nest and share duties taking care of their young.
About eight years ago, UC Berkeley scientist Alan Krakauer studied wild male turkeys mating rituals. He discovered that the males deferred to the dominant fellow and actually helped him mate with the females. It’s an evolutionary principle called “kin selection”. “Individuals may engage in altruism – behavior detrimental to their survival or reproduction – if the behavior increases the survival or reproductive output of their relatives." The dominant male preforms a classic strut – shuffling his feet and making a low drumming noise. "While the dominant male was strutting, however, the subordinate might continue to display, like a back-up singer, or even chase away other males that got too close," Krakauer said. When I see them from now on, I will imagine a Motown group like "The Temptations" or "Smokey Robinson and the Miracles".
The turkey parade continued this morning, while Stella went nuts barking at the windows. The ladies regally made their way across our front lawn, eating up all the ticks and insects that the herd of deer have been leaving behind all winter. Soon they will be escorting their baby poults, or “lurkeys” as my neighbors call them, teaching them the Way of the Turkey that will be handed down to another generation.
Ain’t Nature grand?