Red Maple Tree Roost: Turkeys like other fowl have certain requirements to keep them healthy, safe & happy. Before you add the misunderstood turkey to your backyard or small farm it is best to prepare or at the very least be aware of the necessities.
One requirement is night time perch or roost. People have beds, Turkeys have perches. The roost serves a dual function: bed and nighttime safety position to wait out the dark hours for the sunrise.
Our heritage turkeys use a combination of outdoor roosting & indoor roosting (mostly of their choice)
For the outdoor roost, the hens and young turkeys fly into the high branches of a red maple and an oak tree. The Toms who have grown too heavy to lift themselves to the high branches, stay on the lower braches or lumber we placed for that purpose.
Oddly enough, as the sun dips below the horizon and the birds scramble to for safety; the Alpha male (or males) are always the last to go into the tree. In the spring this will often lead to a fight as the daylight slowly slips away.
The very old Toms actually place themselves in the indoor or caged perches. At dark we close the doors and lock them in. We have a 13 year old wild tom whose preference is to settle down with with the chickens.
Our pens all have several perches and occasionally we will have sick or injured bird that we will lock up for safety.
Picture of one of our "inside" secure perches for the young, old or injured
As mentioned, some of our toms, we no longer allow in the tree, & not because they do not have the ability to fly into the tree, but because of how they land when flying down. We had at least one alpha male- half bourbon red, half royal palm break his hip during a daylight landing. “Stripe” as we had named him lived for another 6 years with a serious limp. And as turned out became a wonderful “Father!” Taking in baby turkeys under his wings whenever possible and following the hens and poults out to do dust baths.
Happy chatter: as soon as the young birds get on their perch, inside or outside, they begin their happy chirping. They snuggle against each other or under their mothers wing and let the world know how happy they are. One of the questions I wonder about: do the wild babies twitter away also? The noise must bring predators of all shapes and sizes slipping under the tree hoping to catch a fallen bird.
Note: we have given birds away to people who were not aware of the roost requirement. I have heard the after action reports of how the turkeys roosted on a four foot high chain-link fence, only to be eventually pulled off by predators.
Second note: Keep in mind, the heavier breed Males-Bourbon Red, Spanish Black and Blue Slates will be excellent flyers until about 8 month old and then will gradually fail to reach the higher roost levels with the hens.
They will either have to be penned up or a ‘lower’ perch constructed.
Rockman on lookout during a night perch inspection
Update: New photo of pen, showing "upper" and "lower" perches. The baby turkeys love to play on the high perch.
Note: When spring arrives and I weed the garden, I transplant the 'weeds' into the pen for the hen and babes to feast on.
As soon as the baby turkeys pass the two week period when rain will kill them, I open the doors and let the hen and poults "free range" all day. The doors are blocked open and the mini-flock will come in to eat, drink and perch at their leisure. At night we will shut the doors with the poults inside-especially in the spring when the owls seem to be more inclined to raid the maple tree roost.
As the poults grow, the mothers take them on training flights into the perch trees.
Sometimes in as little as 4 weeks the birds begin perching overnight in the tree
Hens on the Roost and the classic "Owl Puff"
A barred owl has been swooping onto the roost attempting to knock a small bird out of the tree. Resulting in the 'owl puff'; the turkey hen's neck are arched, feathers puffed and the toms sound a distinctive alarm -a cross between a growl and Gobble.
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