The wild turkeys are back in the Backcountry Wilderness Area and they're looking for love.
Photograph by Stu Smith
Each Spring, the relative quiet of the Backcountry Wilderness Area is interrupted by the boisterous sound of gobbling male turkeys. Toms (pictured below) are adult male turkeys and are characterized by a full tail fan in which all of the feathers are the same length and a long beard.
Photograph by Stu Smith
Jakes (pictured below) are younger male turkeys whose tail fan will have feathers in the middle that are longer than the rest, forming a peak in an otherwise symmetrical half-moon of plumage. Often times, jakes can resemble hens but jakes have black-tipped feathers on their chests where hens have brown feathers.
Photograph by Bill Masure
The males gobble and strut, performing a colorful and often noisy show known as a “lek” in order to attract a female mate known as hens. It is essentially a show-off competition to display one's worthiness of breeding. The birds will also fight each other for the right to a hen, using the sharp spurs on their legs as weapons. The turkey below is fighting off a suitor unlikely to win the favor of a hen ... it's an imposter!
Photograph by Mark Giebel
Hens will crouch before a tom or jake, signifying who won the competition and allow them to breed. Hens will lay between 10-12 eggs in a nest followed by a month-long incubation period. That may seem like a lot of eggs but only about 10 percent of those eggs will later become fully grown turkeys. Many fall victim to predators either as eggs or poults while others will succumb to weather-related deaths. Check out the video below of a hen with her poults from last summer in the Backcountry Wilderness Area.
Here's a little bit of wild turkey background specific to the Backcountry Wilderness Area. In 2009, there were about 30 wild turkeys on two limited spots on the property. Now, there are more than 100 in population and they spread out across the property and into the Wildcat Mountain area. On occasion, they have also frequented neighborhood around Highlands Ranch.
Fun Fact: Male turkeys do not only gobble when trying to attract a mate. But, they will “shock gobble” when they hear a loud noise. We have heard them gobble at airplanes, car doors, car horns, crows hooting, trains going by, sirens, and more!
Gus Brunger is the Backcountry Wilderness Property Maintenence Coordinator. Gus grew up just down the road in Castle Rock, Colorado and spent his youth exploring Douglas County and surrounding areas. Gus studied natural resources at Colorado State University. He feels more at home outside than in and enjoys going on adventures with his fiancé and dog.