The wild world has a lot to teach us
I have been whining for months now to anyone who would listen, as recently as my last blog in this space in fact, about the seeming disappearance of wild turkeys from Froggy Bottom.
My area of western Sandusky County in northwest Ohio was one of the last in the state to have turkeys reintroduced. The nearest stocking to my bailiwick was about eight miles away and I waited for years in patient anticipation that a flock eventually would work its way along stream corridors to mine, a branch of Muskellunge Creek.
Then two winters ago, some birds showed up. It was pure joy for an old wild turkey fan. Two springs ago, I was seeing up to 8 or 10 birds at a time – toms, hens, jakes, jennies. Later, hens tending new poults in summer.
But as suddenly as the birds appeared, they seemed to evaporate from the local landscape. I saw only two hens one time last November on one of my trail cams, and again in February. And nothing since, this after months of the birds being fairly regular “visitors” on my trailcams. No gobbling or sightings this spring. I am always scanning the fields and woodlot edges and croplands for sign of the birds, occasionally making “live” sightings.
Fast-forward to Sunday morning. As the rising sun cast long autumn-gold shadows down my sloping driveway and side yard, a mature hen and what appeared to be two nearly full-grown poults materialized on my mowed side-yard archery range. I was overjoyed, but the most interesting part of the story is the rest of it.
The lead, mature bird was injured, a leg. It hobbled and hopped mostly one-footed and its rear quarter on the same side looked badly ruffled. Had it perhaps been clipped by a passing vehicle?
The two jennies followed the boss hen closely, and then the injured bird suddenly keeled over on its side. The younger birds somehow seemed to recognize that the elder was hurt and they quickly skittered over and began to nudge and shoulder her. After some urging the injured bird, using a wing for leverage and the tending birds for support, got back up on its good leg.
I was somewhat flummoxed by what I had just seen, so fascinated I forgot to fetch my cellphone-camera. The three hens stayed in the side yard for another 20 minutes or so, quietly and slowly moving about and pecking at the grass, perhaps on still overnight-dormant insects. The injured bird continued to hop and hobble, but it slowly appeared to re-gather itself, as if shaking off shock.
Eventually the three birds slowly worked their way – single file, injured hen in the lead – into the brush and woodlot next to my shed-barn in the side yard. I was able to capture their presence digitally with a “through-the-screen” phonecam shot from an upper window, but dared not open a door in fear of spooking them off.
I duly reported the sighting on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources “report wildlife” website, including the photo and in the comments block briefly describing the unusual assistance behavior rendered by the healthy birds to the injured one.
Now, I am not one to indulge in soft-headed Disneyesque anthropomorphism. I am reluctant to grant full human altruism to wild species, though I do recognize that many species take great care in rearing their offspring, from primates and elephants to whales and dolphins and many others.
But I never before have witnessed such keen recognition, or such attentive assistance, of the injured among the likes of wild turkeys. It just goes to show, the wild world has a lot to teach us if we keep our eyes, and minds, open.