Who says wild turkeys are stupid? They leave footprints that serve as directional arrows pointing predators in the opposite direction. Those prints in the photo above are on our driveway. Because our flock of 26 wild turkeys is still thriving, the driveway is an artwork of arrows. Each footprint, frozen in about an inch of snow or in the gravel, looks like an archaeological discovery—a dinosaur track.
Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising, given that scientific evidence shows that birds evolved from dinosaurs. At any major natural history museum you're likely to find a cast made from the 150-million-year-old fossil of an archaeopterix—a transitional species usually described as the first bird—that was unearthed in Germany in the 1870s. Or perhaps from one of the other fossils that have been found since then. We saw one most recently at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.
If you're interested in a detailed (if sometimes technical) description of the research being done on the structure and even color of feathers on certain dinosaurs, check out http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2010/01/what_colours_were_dinosaur_feathers.php.
In addition to the backwards arrow tracks they leave, wild turkeys can of course also fly to escape predators. Each day at 4 p.m. Pamelia and I watch the members of our flock take off (with a running start), one by one. They are ungainly flyers whose wings make a loud whooshing. The turkeys usually whack a few branches on the way up but always find a perch on which to roost for the night. It is very strange to walk outside at dusk and see more than two dozen of these huge birds snoozing in your leafless oak trees.
A reminder: The Naturalist's Notebook is open today, Saturday, Dec. 11, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.