Oak Duke: Springtime music in the turkey woods

Oak Duke

Most turkey hunters will tell you that in the spring of the year, the best time to be in the woods is that magical time when it's still dark, “just before first light.”

Magical because the upland woods soon rings as the light comes on with an almost uncountable number of different bird songs. An awakening sound.

Part of each of us who is drawn out into the pre-dawn darkness so soon from our dreams desires this wild music of birds. Maybe we experience the feeling of new growth and returning life after a long, cold winter's dormancy.

No doubt, it's good for us, recharges the soul. An auditory spring tonic.

The classic spring gobbler hunt is to call him in off the roost before the normal daily pattern of the turkey gobbler is established. If we don't get him in off the nighttime roost, then it generally becomes more problematic calling him in later.

Pre-dawn birdcalls and woodpecker drumming create a resonance within our consciousness, as we await the rattle of a wild turkey gobble in the dark.

It is a kind of music full of high notes, bass notes and even percussionists, as male grouse "drum."

And we join in. Turkey hunters also mimic the birdcalls we hear as part of our hunting tactic. The imitation of whistles, hoots, caws and goose honks are used by turkey hunters to get the old tom to sound off. Turkey hunters call it "shock gobbling."

And once in a while, when we get it just right, or at least close, we get an answer back. Of course we never really know what the birds are saying, don't know their language. But it makes us smile when our calls work, and we call again.

At the least it is a greeting, an acknowledgement, a little head nod or tip of the hat, right?

But maybe it's better that we don't know what the birds are saying. Maybe they are cussing us out, calling us every name in the book of avian censorship. Or maybe, worse yet, they are laughing at us, talking behind our backs, plotting ... And that wouldn't surprise me one bit about turkeys.

Yet the scientists tell us that these bird songs are only ornithological displays of dominance and territoriality. And this overwhelming cacophony, orchestrated together with harsh crow caws, raven croaks, staccato tapping of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and hammering of the Pileated woodpeckers is each their way of saying the same thing.

From the weird "pheet" of the male woodcock on his singing ground, a special little clearing in the woods, to the "who-cooks-for-you" hoots of the barred owl, way up and well-hidden in a lone White pine.

And from the melodic songs of all the ubiquitous and diminutive sparrows to that main boss sound that draws us into the outdoors: the haunting, bold and raucous gobble of the wild turkey.

Yet most people are not turkey hunters on these springtime mornings.

No, most roll over and go back to sleep, wrapping the pillow over their sleepy heads, trying to keep their dreams in and keep these awakening sounds from working their magic.

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