Harbingers of spring include longer days, daffodils peeking up from the ground, and horny farm animals. It’s turkey mating season, and the girls don’t discriminate!
Often, new farmers come to me, wondering why their roosters are more aggressive toward hatch-mates and why their drakes are mounting their chickens. Don’t poultry know the difference? And what are the babies going to look like? I tell them that no, that’s not how turduckens are made. It’s spring and everyone’s ready to get some eggs a-incubatin’.
Turkeys herald the impending spring by getting more…should I say…friendly?
I have two turkeys, named Salome and Fernando. And before you ask, no, there are no babies in our future. Fernando is a girl. When they were growing, I changed names a couple times. Solomon became Salome. Fernando used to be Blanca, then I thought she was a tom so she became Fernando, then, by the time I realized she was undoubtedly female, I was sick of changing names. So, though her name is Fernando, she identifies as female. (Disclaimer: a transgendered friend approved of this joke.)
Salome and Fernando have always been my friendliest turkeys, which explains why they’re still strutting the backyard while George (also a girl) was brined and roasted for Christmas dinner. Particularly, Salome stands on the six-foot fence and calls out salutations to the neighbors. (They return the salutations by jogging away before the freakish condor-bird can get them.) Salome also likes to stand on the air conditioning box so she can listen to our voices or music coming from the other side.
Last week, as I was getting ready for an afternoon client, my husband said, “Is there something wrong with the turkeys? Their chirps are different.”
I shrugged. A few minutes ago, I had been out there to gather eggs and refill water. Both turkeys were fine. They followed me around more than normal, leaning against my legs when I stopped. And if I reached down to pet them, they “assumed the position.” Farmers, you know the one. Knees bent, wings up, butt out.
“It’s just springtime,” I said. You know, turkey mating season. “They want to meet a nice guy.”
Lately, Salome’s fence-top salutations had also diverged from “Hi, howya doin’” to “Hey, want a date?” (The neighbors run even faster, because she really wants a date.) Turkey hens don’t gobble but have a two-part chirp that sounds like an adult version of a chick’s cry. Salome’s chirp was now preceded by a long trill. And, on this afternoon, she was doing it a lot.
I looked out the window as I slung my bag on my arm, prepared to go out the door. She was chirping at something specific. And she was on top of the fence, ready to go find it.
“Jerry’s on top of the shed, chirping back at her,” said my husband.
I laughed. Jerry, the neighbor boy, was ten or twelve years old and had already been immortalized in my farm stories after his friend dared him to pick and eat one of my nine varieties of pepper. Of all the bells, sweet bananas, and marconis, he chose the ripe habanero. Now, Jerry was unwittingly exchanging mating calls with a very amorous bird.
Soon my laughter stopped. “Honey, she’s going after him! And I’m late for work!”
Salome was in love and determined to find her new soulmate. She flapped down from the fence, into the driveway, and onto the fence dividing our house from the neighbors’. As I ran to work, Russ ran out to fetch the turkey. Wrapping his arms around her, avoiding a defensive wing-to-the-face, he told Jerry that it was mating season and that he had just called her over to make chicks. That sent the poor kid running into his house.
One week later, though Salome stands on the fence and sends mournful calls of unrequited love, nobody answers back. She usually gives up after a few chirps and finds worms to peck. And somewhere, out there, is a tom that follows his owners around, tail fanned and wings extended, hoping someone will return his affections.
Happy turkey mating season, everyone!