There’s a steep grassy hillside along Valley View Road where the kids and I check for wild turkeys on the daily drive home from school. These birds are so big, so distinct, that we exclaim their appearance from a block away and try to count how many are strolling the slope as we drive by.
When the midafternoon sun shines down on a flock of turkeys basking in the warmth, we see the many shades of brown in their feathers. At the right light and angle, wild turkey feathers flash iridescent with startling touches of green, purple and bronze. Both males and females have wattles, that fleshy part that hangs from the birds’ necks. Their necks even change color, ranging from white to gray to blue to bright red.
One recent day as we drove home, there were no wild turkeys on the hill, but I spotted two of that other massive, local bird: the bald eagle. They stood back among the trees on the ground, feasting on what was probably a deer carcass.
Have you seen a bald eagle standing on the ground? Yes, they look big soaring in the sky, but when you see them on the ground you realize they are not just big birds, but easily-half-your-height birds. Anyway, I digress.
I was too slow in alerting the kids to the eagles. But we had time, so I turned the van around to drive past those big birds again.
Alex and Amy spotted the eagles this time and gushed over their size. Then I turned the car around once more to head home. On the first pass, we hadn’t seen any wild turkeys, but this time a flock of them had just emerged from the other side of the hill and were flying over the road. Turkeys soaring over the cars to the other side.
Have you seen a wild turkey fly? They run a few steps and use their powerful wings to propel themselves into the air. With a wingspan of four feet, they glide with an unexpected grace. Domestic turkeys are bred too plump (up to and over 40 pounds) to be able to fly, but wild turkeys, at a svelte yet sturdy 25 pounds, are surprisingly agile in flight.
That Valley View hillside is one of several places in Eden Prairie that I look for wild turkeys. This winter, I noticed at least six turkeys up high in trees along Mitchell Road. They roost in trees: bronzy blobs on boughs and branches staying safe from predators such as coyotes, eagles, and foxes.
I have seen flocks of wild turkeys in my neighborhood walking from one patch of wooded area to the next. They often need to cross streets, and we slow our cars to let our feathered neighbors by. They eat whatever they can find on the ground: grubs, seeds, buds, berries, insects, frogs, grasses. Wild turkeys, once extirpated from Minnesota, have learned to live in suburbia.
Recently, the toms (male turkeys) have been strutting for the hens (female turkeys). They gobble, gobble loudly and fan up their tail feathers in an impressive display. The hens will lay their clutch of speckled brown eggs in a nest on the ground. Come late May to early June, I look forward to seeing the poults, those fluffy baby turkeys trailing their mama who yelps and clucks to keep them in line.
I drove towards home, delighted that we had taken the time to see two of Eden Prairie’s largest birds. Alex and Amy craned their necks to look out the back window watching the flight of wild turkeys until we crested the next hill.
Nature nearby is a monthly column by Eden Prairie resident Amber D. Stoner.