WILD TURKEYS ON ABACO (BAD TIMING…)


WILD TURKEYS ON ABACO (BAD TIMING…)

We have to face the facts here: this is absolutely the worst time of year to be a turkey. First, Thanksgiving. Then Christmas. It seems everyone wants a piece of you. Literally, I’m afraid. You could get very cut up about it. So this is not perhaps the most tactful time to mention that there are turkeys to be found on Abaco. Wild ones, though. Ones that lack the lavish feeding regimes enjoyed by the plump domestic turkeys that are integral to the festive season. And anyway, the Abaco turkeys – like the PEAFOWL of Casuarina – are harmless additions to the landscape and to the rich avian variety to be found on Abaco. 

Wild Turkey Hen, Abaco, Bahamas (Ali & Bob Ball)

Wild Turkey Hen, Abaco, Bahamas

I don’t know the origin of the Abaco wild turkeys, but I assume a few were introduced in the past and have become feral (again, just like the peafowl) . They may be flattered to know that they fall into a class called ‘exotics’. I note that we omitted to list them in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, where they would have kept company with muscovy ducks, mallards (a slightly harsh ruling maybe), chukars, red junglefowl, the peafowl, cockatiels, budgies, and a couple of macaw species. All these have been found on Abaco but do not strictly count as birds of Abaco. On the other hand, some introduced species such as the bobwhite have slipped under the radar and become fully accredited Abaco birds.

Wild Turkey Hen, Abaco, Bahamas (Ali & Bob Ball)

Wild Turkey Hen, Abaco, Bahamas

Adult male turkeys are called toms or gobblers; females are hens; juveniles are jakes; and the chicks are poults. In the breeding season, Toms engage in a great deal of strutting and fluffing-up-of-feathers business when they are trying to impress the hens – and frankly, they are notably free with their attentions. Promiscuous, one might say.

Historically, wild turkey populations in North America were decimated or destroyed by over-enthusiastic hunting. In many areas, conservation measures helped to restore the turkey populations. Still, the fact remains that they are potential food; and they are a (relatively) easy large target (cf turkey-shoot). Wild turkeys can fly short distances (which the domesticated variety cannot), but their body-weight somewhat limits the chance of escape by flight.

Audubon’s charming depiction of a turkey hen with her chicksWild Turkey Hen and Chicks (Audubon)

STRANGE BUT TRUE

Benjamin Franklin was unimpressed by the proposal of the Bald Eagle as national bird (and by the British, clearly…) As he wrote in letter to his daughter, “…in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on”.

I’ve heard reports of Abaco wild turkeys seen north of Marsh Harbour; in the Little Harbour area; and in the far south of the island. I’d be pleased to learn of any recent sightings – it would be interesting to know how many small groups there are on the island. You can either comment here, DM me on FB, or email me. And perhaps I should add, let’s just map the turkeys, not eat them…

WHAT SORT OF WILD TURKEY SHOULD I CONSUME FESTIVELY?

Wild Turkey Hens with chicks (d. gordon & e. robertson)

Credits: Audubon (1, 4); Ali & Bob Ball (2, 3); D. Gordon / E. Robertson (5); Birdorable (cartoon); Etsy (soft bird); some random drink ad

“AN OSTENTATION OF PEACOCKS”: FERAL BIRDS ON ABACO


Peahen, %22Different of Abaco%22 2 (Rhonda Pearce)

“AN OSTENTATION OF PEACOCKS”: FERAL BIRDS ON ABACO

A year or so ago I wrote a post entitled SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”, a nod to Monty Python and to Nettica Symonette’s long-defunct fishing lodge on the road to Casuarina that it still proudly signposted on the Highway. You can click the link to see the full post and plenty of peacocks. Or, as I mentioned then, peafowl (only the males are peacocks; the females are peahens; and the little ones are peachicks).

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 1 (Rhonda Pearce)

“Different of Abaco” is a great place for birding. An overgrown wilderness with brackish ponds and a *dangerous structure alert* dilapidated building, it was once home to Nettie’s flamingos, reintroduced by her in the hope of reinstating Abaco’s lost breeding population. The experiment did not come off, but another one did. The legacy of her introduction of a few peacocks is very evident today: they have bred very successfully and provide an exotic – and noisy – addition to the breeding bird species on Abaco.

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 3 (Rhonda Pearce)

The evidence from reports suggests that the peafowl are spreading from their base at Different of Abaco and the local Casuarina area. Celia Rogers saw 2 males on the Cherokee road, some 3 or 4 miles to the north. And Rhonda Pearce has more recently found them at the entrance to Bahama Palm Shores, some way to the south (below).

 Peacock, Bahama Palm Shores Abaco 2 (Rhonda Pearce)    Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco 1 (Rhonda Pearce)

Extent of peafowl range from reported sightingsCasuarina, Abaco area map

As I wrote before, “In the wilderness that Different of Abaco has become for many years, the descendants of the original peacocks are breeding contentedly, expanding their population, and are wholly unreliant on human intervention. Verily feral, in fact”. If anyone has encountered peacocks elsewhere than in the DoA / Casuarina area, I’d love to hear about it. A photo would be a bonus!

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 4 (Rhonda Pearce)

OPTIONAL FUN FACTS

The collective noun for peafowl is generally considered to be a “pride”, as with lions. But many bird species have been assigned more than one collective noun – and many of the more unusual ones are historic, dating back to medieval times, in particular The Boke of St Albans (1486) by a nun called Dame Juliana Berners, which included lists of collective nouns for ‘companys of beestys and fowlys’. These were known as ‘terms of venery’, and many related to falconry and hunting. She also wrote the presumed first fishing guide, A treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle (her catch records do not survive).

Anyway, apart from ‘pride’, peacocks are also collectively known as a ‘muster’; and far more descriptively as an ‘ostentation’.

D of A: the glory daysimg0049

Credits: All peafowl Rhonda Pearce; final image π “The Abacos” online

FERAL PEACOCKS: SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”


Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Sally Salvesen)

FERAL PEACOCKS: SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”

Driving the Highway south from Marsh Harbour, past the turn-off to Winding Bay and Cherokee, you reach an unassuming side road. This takes you to Casuarina, its gorgeous beach and the canal cut that leads to Cherokee Sound and … bonefish. At the junction you can hardly fail to see the large, time-worn notice for “Different of Abaco“, the former fishing lodge owned by Nettica Symonette. It has been defunct for many years. The lodge buildings are sadly dilapidated and *safety alert* the wooden boards are frail. The grounds are romantically overgrown, and dotted with half-concealed derelict vehicles and machinery rusting away benignly as the seasons pass. The large ponds that must have once been attractive are brackish and uninviting. But guess what! The place is a haven for birds.

Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The most surprising sight is of peafowl – the collective name for peacocks, peahens and peachicks. This flamboyant species was introduced many years ago as a decorative addition to the Lodge and its grounds. It was part of a wider, more ambitious scheme to reintroduce a breeding flock of flamingoes to Abaco. These had regrettably become extirpated from the island and then, as now, were only found as vagrant individuals. The attempt sadly failed and the flamingoes disappeared. Rumours sometimes surface of breeding pairs far out on the Marls or in a secluded place in the far south of the island, but these remain unsubstantiated. The peafowl introduction, however, has proved to be an unexpected success.

Peacock, with bizarre graffiti addressed to Santa ClausFeral Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Peahen in the garden of “Different of Abaco”Peahen, Casuarina, Abaco (Sally Salvesen)

Peacocks swaggering in the grounds: note the fully feathered tails (cf photo #2  above)Peacock, Abaco (Nina Henry) 1Peacock, Abaco (Nina Henry) 3

The compilation of “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” involved plenty of decision-making. We obviously couldn’t feature every recorded species – for a start, for many species there were merely reports of sightings but no (or only inadequate) photographs. One interesting factor for consideration was the stage at which an introduced species becomes bird OF Abaco as opposed to a non-indigenous bird that happens to be IN Abaco.

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Rhonda Pearce’s Peafowl Gallery (NB peachicks included!) above demonstrates why this species was an easy choice for inclusion. On the assumption that the original birds were brought to the Lodge in the late ’80s or early ’90s, the chicks you see here must be several generations down the line. A breeding population has been established in the wild, as the grounds of D of A have become. The evidence is that it is spreading slowly – across the road, further into the settlement at Casuarina and recently even further afield.

Celia Rogers photographed this cluster of peahens in Casuarina – but the two males were on the road to Cherokee, maybe 3 or 4 miles distance to the north as the peacock struts

Peahens, Casuarina (Celia Rogers)Peacocks (Cherokee Road)  Abaco (Celia Rogers)

So that’s how the feral peacocks of Abaco come to be classified (in a purely unofficial way) as birds OF Abaco for the purposes of the book**. Once they would have been viewed as pets – like the muscovy ducks that can be found in a few places, Gilpin Point for example. But in the wilderness that Different of Abaco has become for many years, the descendants of the original peacocks are breeding contentedly, expanding their population, and are wholly unreliant on human intervention. Verily feral, in fact.

**That, and the fact that Mrs RH borrowed my camera and undeniably took the best photos of the male and female birds (#1 and #4 above), as seen on pp 70-71 of the book…

Peacock, Abaco (Liann Key Kaighin) 1

D of A: the glory daysimg0049

Credits: Mrs RH (1, 4); RH (2, 3); Nina Henry (5, 6); Rhonda Pearce (7 – 11); Celia Rogers (12, 13); Liann Key Kaighin (14); added final image π “The Abacos” online