Photoperiod and Signs of Spring

Spring: the first 20 days!

Gray skies, cold rain, snow and flooding have slowed down the arrival of spring but photoperiod will rule the day. Increasing day length is a powerful force that insures the necessary progression of life stages, regardless of the weather.

Many aquatic species, including this Great Blue Heron, arrived to find traditional wetland habitats still covered in ice (23March2017).


Snow geese were reported throughout Central New York during the last week of March. They were refueling on waste grain in corn fields and spread manure before continuing their journey to summer range in the Arctic (27-28March2017).




Wild turkeys were foraging on waste grain too, but increasing daylight was also triggering the mating urge in males; many were observed in full display posture, strutting for uninterested hens (1April2017).


Breeding populations of ring-necked pheasants no longer occur in this region, but some are occasionally released into the wild for recreational purposes. This cock pheasant is crowing and flapping his wings in an attempt to attract a hen (6April2017).



Red-winged blackbirds arrived several weeks ago and are defending their breeding territories aggressively, despite the elements (7April2017).


A sure sign of Spring is the transformation of male goldfinches as they molt into their bright breeding plumage (7April2017).


Groundhogs emerged from hibernation in March to find a snow-covered landscape. In the days ahead they faced yet another hardship – the flooding of burrows in marginal habitats. This one seems to have weathered the storms well…but is grazing in the middle of a hay field, a long way from the nearest burrow. Can it outrun an eagle, fox or coyote? Survival is still questionable (8April2017).


Photos by NB Hunter, March 23 – April 8, 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

Wild Turkeys in Early Winter


In the snow belt of the North, agricultural lands provide critical winter habitat for wild turkeys. Not just any corn field or weedy fence row will do however. These large birds  – one of the largest in North America – also need spacious areas with a mixture of grain fields; mature woodlands; large evergreen cover and sheltered, southern exposures. Fields with spread cow manure are a welcome addition to the mix too.

With only a few inches of snow on the ground, our turkeys are unimpeded in their search for concentrated food sources. Flocks ranging from a few birds to 50 or more are often seen in the middle of the day walking, talking and “scratching” across farm fields.


Waste grain in harvested corn fields is a staple (fortunately, the geese didn’t consume all of it in the fall).





Bursts of “lake effect” snow often trigger intense feeding. Accumulating snow could eliminate this high energy food source in a matter of hours – and the birds know that.


Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.



Wild Turkeys in Winter

After more than 50 years of successful restoration and management, the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) now occurs throughout the U.S., excluding Alaska. Belonging to a family of chicken-like birds that includes grouse, partridge and quail, turkeys are one of the more common and popular game birds in the country.

Mature wild turkeys average 10 to 20 pounds and can run or fly with surprising speed. They usually look dark, sometimes black, but when viewed in sunlight at close range, are fairly colorful.


In early winter, before the deep snow arrives, fields, openings and edge habitats in close proximity to mature forests are popular feeding sites.


Flock of wild turkeys feeding in a field-swamp ecotone 10January2015


Wild turkeys foraging in a corn field 14January2015

Since turkeys are primarily ground foragers, deep snow that extends into late winter can be lethal. The situation worsens when the snow is soft and the large birds can’t walk freely, wasting precious energy reserves when traveling. Weakened birds are also more vulnerable to predation.


An early winter scene: turkeys feeding on the persistent fruit of tall shrubs in deep snow

Turkeys are incredibly tough and adaptable and cope with long, harsh winters in several ways.

They seek out dense, mature conifer trees, protected lowlands and sunny slopes for a thermal advantage and energy conservation. Their range and activity are greatly reduced in these critical habitats and, in extreme cases, birds will remain on their roosts without food for days, even weeks.

The turkeys in the following 3 images were part of a small flock of undernourished birds, roosting and searching for food in a sunny thicket of small trees and shrubs. Usually wary of people, they were 10 to 40 meters from a secondary road and unwilling, or unable, to flee vehicular disturbances. Hunger trumps fear.


A malnourished turkey searching for food in deep, soft snow 6March2015


A malnourished turkey roosting in the sun on a cold day; it’s fluffing its feathers to enhance their insulating value 6March2015 (1 of 2 images)


Once thought of as a back-country, “big woods” species, intolerant of humans, the Eastern Wild Turkey is adapting to alternate food sources in close proximity to people as a means of winter survival. It is not unusual to see birds in wooded residential habitats visiting bird feeders. In rural areas, waste grain in cow manure is a late-winter staple, and can be the difference between life and death.


Part of a flock of about 25 wild turkeys that have flown in from a nearby roost in mature timber to pick grain from cow manure.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Recent Bird Sightings

I was lucky enough to see a Fisher and an Eastern Wild Turkey gobbler this evening, but have no photos to prove it! Instead, I’ll share photos of random bird sightings from the past week, all species that were covered in earlier posts.

The Eastern Bluebirds are nesting now, and I usually see them feeding in the morning. In their typical “perch and drop” manner, they land on a woody plant near an opening, usually about 3 to 10 feet above ground, then drop to the ground to snatch an insect.


Eastern Bluebird, male

The Tree Swallows, like the Bluebirds, are now nesting in my custom boxes.


Tree Swallow


I have read about Turkey Vultures adopting a residential lifestyle, but until this past week had not observed it. On the western edge of our one-stoplight village is a small stream, field, large Black Willow trees, and a dead-end road with a few houses. A flock of about eight birds has been roosting there, sometimes in the large willows, sometimes on roof tops, and occasionally on one of the large fence posts that frame a garden plot.


Turkey Vultures



My property is generally avoided by wild Turkeys in winter due to deep snow. However, they’re here in the spring breeding and nesting season and I often see them in the summer with their broods, feeding on grasshoppers and other insects. This hen is a wild bird, probably nesting within a few hundred yards of the house, that often forages through the yard around mid-day.


Eastern Wild Turkey



All photos by NB Hunter