Photographed in DeWitte County in the spring of 2018. I was with Jeff Rohling and we were searching for spring wildflower landscapes when I saw a hen in an open field next to the road. We stopped putting a large bush between us and the bird. The gobbler then appeared strutting around the bush and gobbling his head off. We quickly shot him with our 500mm lenses, and he never felt any pain.
The abundant numbers of Wild Turkey is due to conservation efforts like the National Wild Turkey Foundation, a hunters' organization that funds conservation projects.
Most North American kids learn turkey identification early, by tracing outlines of their hands to make Thanksgiving cards. These big, spectacular birds are an increasingly common sight the rest of the year, too, as flocks stride around woods and clearings like miniature dinosaurs. Courting males puff themselves into feathery balls and fill the air with exuberant gobbling. The Wild Turkey’s popularity at the table led to a drastic decline in numbers, but they have recovered and now occur in every state except Alaska.
The Wild Turkey and the Muscovy Duck are the only two domesticated birds native to the New World.
In the early 1500s, European explorers brought home Wild Turkeys from Mexico, where native people had domesticated the birds centuries earlier. Turkeys quickly became popular on European menus thanks to their large size and rich taste from their diet of wild nuts. Later, when English colonists settled on the Atlantic Coast, they brought domesticated turkeys with them.
The English name of the bird may be a holdover from early shipping routes that passed through the country of Turkey on their way to delivering the birds to European markets.
Male Wild Turkeys provide no parental care. Newly hatched chicks follow the female, who feeds them for a few days until they learn to find food on their own. As the chicks grow, they band into groups composed of several hens and their broods. Winter groups sometimes exceed 200 turkeys.
As Wild Turkey numbers dwindled through the early twentieth century, people began to look for ways to reintroduce this valuable game bird. Initially they tried releasing farm turkeys into the wild but those birds didn’t survive. In the 1940s, people began catching wild birds and transporting them to other areas. Such transplantations allowed Wild Turkeys to spread to all of the lower 48 states (plus Hawaii) and parts of southern Canada.
Because of their large size, compact bones, and long-standing popularity as a dinner item, turkeys have a better known fossil record than most other birds. Turkey fossils have been unearthed across the southern United States and Mexico, some of them dating from more than 5 million years ago.
There are four sub-races of Wild Turkey; Eastern, Florida, Rio Grande, and Rocky Mountain.
Photographed in Rio Bentsen State Park
Almost always heard before it is seen, the Plain Chachalaca is sort of a long-tailed, tropical chicken that lives in the treetops. These sandy brown and gray birds walk along tree branches to eat flowers, buds, fruits, and insects. They’re locally fairly common in brushy and thorny forests along streams in the Rio Grande Valley and south into Central America. Though their plumage is subtle, their raucous, rhythmic morning chorus is anything but—a classic sound of the Tamaulipan brushlands that livens up any outing.
Although most birds in the Galliformes—such as quail, grouse, turkeys, and pheasants—are ground dwellers, Plain Chachalacas are at home in trees. Their young can cling to branches with both wings and feet as soon as they are dry after hatching.
Pairs of Plain Chachalacas give their loud calls in the early morning and early evening. Chachalacas also call when a storm is approaching or there is some other change in the weather.
The Plain Chachalaca is the only member of the family of guans, curassows, and chachalacas to reach the United States. The family contains approximately 50 species, ranging from Mexico to southern South America, many of which are endangered because of hunting.
Photographed in Attwater NWR.
Turkey Vultures are large dark birds with long, broad wings. Bigger than other raptors except eagles and condors, they have long "fingers" at their wingtips and long tails that extend past their toe tips in flight. When soaring, Turkey Vultures hold their wings slightly raised, making a ‘V’ when seen head-on.
Black Vultures are large raptors. In flight, they hold their broad, rounded wings flat and angled slightly forward. The tail is very short and rounded. They have small, bare heads and narrow but strongly hooked bills.
In the U.S., Black Vultures are outnumbered by their red-headed relatives, Turkey Vultures, but they have a huge range and are the most numerous vulture in the Western Hemisphere.
Turkey Vultures have an excellent sense of smell, but Black Vultures aren’t nearly as accomplished sniffers. To find food they soar high in the sky and keep an eye on the lower-soaring Turkey Vultures. When a Turkey Vulture’s nose detects the delicious aroma of decaying flesh and descends on a carcass, the Black Vulture follows close behind.
One-on-one at a carcass, Black Vultures lose out to the slightly larger Turkey Vulture. But flocks of Black Vultures can quickly take over a carcass and drive the more solitary Turkey Vultures away.
Black Vultures lack a voice box and so their vocal abilities are limited to making raspy hisses and grunts.
Although Black Vultures and their relatives live only in North and South America, the oldest fossils from this group—at least 34 million years old—were found in Europe.