I Hunt Wild Turkeys With a Camera

by kimbesa

I'd heard we had wild turkeys around here, but did not see them until this year. They are wary and it was hard to get close enough to take good pictures.

Wild turkeys are native to North America. The kind we have around here are a subspecies called Eastern wild turkey. Today they live all around the eastern US, from Florida to Canada and west to the Dakotas.

When I saw them cruising around for food, they looked like a line of dinosaurs! I have seen as many as 12 in one flock or rafter.

They look for snails, bugs, seeds, roots, berries and nuts to eat. They are known as smart and watchful birds. When they were eating, one or two of the more mature birds would always keep watch. If I got close enough to make them nervous, they'd flap their wings and move quickly in the opposite direction.

And they can move quickly, or even fly straight up to get into a tree!

Wild Turkeys Making Their Rounds

They are looking for their next stop
They are looking for their next stop

Wild Turkeys Visit Us Often

It was exciting to see the big group of turkeys coming by almost every day, and sometimes twice a day. They would make their rounds within an hour or two after dawn, and in the later afternoon, too.

They would vary their circuit, though they usually came from the east side and left via the west or northwest.

Wild turkeys may not look beautiful, but they have a certain romance. Ben Franklin thought that the Wild Turkey, and not the Bald Eagle, should be our national bird. “Turkey” was a good thing in his book!

It was surprising how close to the house and buildings they would come, even into the driveway and front yard, unless something spooked them. Like me, peeking around a corner or car to take their picture.

We have a large yard and garden space out back, which opens up to farm fields and woods. The fence rows have a lot of trees, including oak and mulberry, to produce food for them. Part of the property is open space, and another big section has a grove of pine trees and tall grass.

And there is a nature preserve not too far away, with 200 acres of woods, two small lakes and a large wetland.

Whenever the turkeys came around, I ran to get my camera to take pictures.

Settled in the Shade

A favorite spot
A favorite spot

I Want to Get Close

I know that turkeys are wary, have good eyesight, and are not easy to trick, so I used the techniques I’ve learned when photographing other birds.

  • First, approach in a quiet, slow manner. Use obstacles to your advantage, keeping a bush or tree between you and them as you can work your way in.
  • Then stand still and don’t make any sudden movements. It helps to keep the camera at shoulder height from the beginning, so you don’t have to move much to see the screen and take the photo.
  • After that just take pictures. If you wait for the exact right moment, it may be gone before your camera has time to focus and grab the image.

One advantage of digital photography: you don’t run out of film. If I think I’ll be taking a lot of pictures, I can switch to a fresh battery before I go out.

Birds can see that green light the camera uses to calculate distance and focus. Sometimes I’ll pre-set the focus on an object that’s at the same distance as the birds, then pan over to the subject just before pressing the shutter button.

I kept at it, taking pictures whenever the turkeys came around, though my camera only had an 8x optical zoom. It wasn’t enough to get the results I wanted. But I’m happy to keep hunting turkeys with a camera, when I get the chance.

A View of Some Wild Turkeys

The ones we saw move just like these, and fly, too!

Have You Ever Seen a Wild Turkey?

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More Views of Wild Turkeys

Someone was irritated
Someone was irritated

Serenity Returns

Relaxing in their sandy spot
Relaxing in their sandy spot

An Uncertain Ending

They had been visiting so regularly. Everyone in the neighborhood must have known they were around. One day, they just stopped coming. And we haven’t seen them since.

I have not found out what happened for sure. I’d like to think they found a cozy spot in a cornfield, and have gotten ready for winter on free meals.

But it’s also possible that something else happened. We do have a turkey season around here, once a year for a couple of weeks in the fall, for bow hunting. Or it could have been something else.

We have wild turkeys due to reintroduction efforts that started more than 60 years ago. Biologists found that they had to trap and relocate wild birds to be successful. Releasing domesticated turkeys didn’t work. Those birds seem to have lost their wild survival skills.

I don’t think our neighborhood turkeys would have been likely to be fooled into entering a fenced area. And they can fly well enough to get over any barrier, unless it had a top.

Maybe we’ll see them again in the winter or spring. I got a new camera with a 40x optical zoom, so I’m ready to take their picture!

An Early Morning Visit

Wild turkeys coming to visit
Wild turkeys coming to visit

And Then, On a Cold, Bright Morning in Late Fall

Sunning themselves
Sunning themselves

We Got a Surprise!

Nature Brings the Unexpected

They came back!

This morning there was a large group out along the fence line, walking along as calm and nonchalant as you please!

As you might imagine, I ran for my camera as soon as I spotted them out of the corner of my eye.

 

The Rafter Returns

The morning was frosty and cold, but they seemed unconcerned. They stopped along the fence row, in a spot that was warming in the morning light.

They looked around, and preened their feathers. Sometimes they checked out the ground for something to eat, in no hurry to move on. Maybe they knew it would be easy to disappear into the trees quickly if anything came by to disturb their peaceful morning.

The earthy colors and the patterns on their feathers blended in well with the turning leaves, falling gently from the trees.

I thought the turkeys looked good. Maybe they had just been on a vacation, having a feast out in the tall corn. The low angle of the bright light made their feathers look glossy and rich.

I took a lot of pictures with my new camera. They gave me a good half hour before they decided to head out back toward the woods and corn fields.

I'm very satisfied with the pictures I was able to get with my new camera, the one with 40x optical zoom. I could keep a distance that was comfortable for the birds, yet close enough to see them in vivid detail.

Wild turkeys don't go anywhere for the winter. They will find some protected places to stay, and continue their daily hunt for food.

Will we see them again? I hope so!

Posing for the Camera

Late Fall Colors on Display
Late Fall Colors on Display
Updated: 11/08/2017, kimbesa
 
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kimbesa 11 days ago

That's good to hear! We saw them daily, sometimes more than once, regularly for weeks, then poof!

They have not been back since their one-time recent visit, but I'm feeling relieved that they are still in the neighborhood and have apparently found safe places to roam.

Thanks for stopping by!

sheilamarie 11 days ago

We have wild turkeys wandering in our neighbourhood quite often. They do tend to come and go.

kimbesa 16 days ago

Sorry to hear about the pelicans... Around here, there have been large flocks of Canadian geese that left so many calling cards on the grass at certain parks that they had to get some dogs to chase them off.

Any flocks of wild birds are something to see, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in wildlife!

Thanks for stopping by!

blackspanielgallery 16 days ago

I have seen some in Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountain National Park. There they are fully protected, and have little fear of people.
I have never seen one fly, but the image of one flying is on the Louisiana quarter in the America the Beautiful series, which people in this state are well aware of.
I similar thing happened here, but to white pelicans. every year they returned to the same pond, had offspring, then when the young were able to move the flock would leave. One year there were probably over a hundred young, and a few adults would stand guard while the others left. Then they failed to return. I suspect aligators found the young birds tempting, and once they feasted the adults laid eggs elsewhere.

kimbesa 16 days ago

@dustytoes - Thanks! I'm envious that you had so many turkeys to see, especially the males. I hope we get them back around our place.

kimbesa 16 days ago

@Veronica Thank you! I'm glad you liked this article, and I hope the photography tips help you get those heron photos!

kimbesa 16 days ago

@frankbeswick Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed this one!

dustytoes 16 days ago

I saw lots of wild turkeys when I lived in New Hampshire. Certain times of year they were more prevalent. The babies and big males, strutting with all their feathers up, were my favorite. Your photos are wonderful!

Veronica 16 days ago

This of course is beyond my comprehension here I North West England. Firstly, I wasn't aware that wild turkeys existed,: Secondly let alone see them close to.

Thank you for your hints about taking bird photos. Very useful . I have been trying to take a heron along the local canalside for years but it sees me from yards away.

You are a skilled photographer - Ty.

frankbeswick 16 days ago

An enjoyable article with great photography.

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