Adaptation

When the snow is too deep for the turkeys to find food, they — like all creatures — adapt. This isn’t long-term adaptation, where bodies change and new species appear. This is the kind of movement that happens quickly, while drawing on thousands of years spent struggling and learning, gaining experience and innate wisdom. This is the miracle of survival.

As winter glides toward spring, the turkeys begin to gather in flocks, anticipating the time when toms will spread their back feathers, huff up to the the size of a Volkswagen and strut before a crowd of disinterested ladies. At least that’s what it looks like to me.

Despite their reputation as profoundly lacking in mental acuity, turkeys are glorious birds; they have irridescent feathers that radiate copper and green in the sunlight. The boys sport bright blue heads and fire-engine red wattles to further attract the women when the time for mating arrives. When startled, the whole flock will take wing and sail over the trees and into the hills. Yes, they do fly, and with amazing grace. They just need a lengthy runway. Once airborne, they glide on their huge wings, looking a bit like chubby eagles.

They can be aggressive and have been seen surrounding a local housecat, cornering her in the rhododendron bush in the back yard. But mostly they gobble quietly, grazing along sedately. Occasional spats seem to occur, when they jump in the air and flap their wings furiously at each other. Or maybe they’re not arguing at all, but dancing to a tune we don’t hear. In any event, they never seem to hurt each other, and these encounters usually end with the participants scurrying away from each other.

Adaptation. How to compete and share at the same time. How to find each other when productive lust rises like sap to the brain. How to settle arguments and establish order among neighbors. How to protect each other and intimidate intruders. How to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. And how to locate and dine at the human’s birdfeeder when the rest of the grocery store is under two feet of snow.

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