Pets and Animals | Wild turkey is playing the lone wolf

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DEAR JOAN: I live on a hill where in the past couple years many turkeys — 20 or more — have taken up residence in the gullies below. They all venture up the hill in the morning then return in late afternoon to graze on a common area lawn, returning to gullies below for the night.

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I have watched chicks appear and the survivors grow up. I believe a turkey made a nest on the ridge among some bushes that are routinely trimmed by landscapers. Last week, the bushes were trimmed, and now there is a lone turkey that gobbles from morning to night, not leaving the one spot.

If her nest was destroyed, would a turkey remain in area by herself for almost a week? Or has she been abandoned by the rest? As much of a nuisance as they can be, I am feeling sorry for this bird.

Can you explain the behavior?

Maria, Bay Area

DEAR MARIA: While turkey hens are excellent mothers, they also are, like most wild animals, pragmatic.

Only about half of all nesting attempts produce chicks. Because the turkeys are ground nesting, their eggs are particularly vulnerable to predators that destroy and eat the eggs, or kill and eat the young turkeys after they are hatched.

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A hen might be distraught to find her nest destroyed, but I don’t believe she would hang around for a week mourning the loss.

I’m wondering if the hen is actually a tom. Younger male turkeys don’t have the wonderful plumage that we associate with a tom, and instead resemble a female. The main differences are in color — the tom is darker than a hen — and the presence of a “beard” that hangs down from the chest. It would be more likely that, rather than a hen in mourning, it is a young bachelor trying to attract a female by gobbling up a storm.

Toms that haven’t found a mate also can be ostracized by a dominant male that doesn’t want any competition. Your lone turkey could be one of those guys. The bachelor toms will eventually be welcomed back by the females and their broods, once the mating season is over.

It might also be a younger turkey that has become separated from its flock and is calling out to its mother and friends.

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DEAR JOAN: The gophers just ate my iris plant, which had a bud on it, and in its place are several gopher mounds.

I have a trap, but I’m wondering, do you use any bait, and if so, what kind?

Mike Gordon, Walnut Creek

DEAR MIKE: The bad news is you have a gopher. The good news is, despite all of the mounds, you likely only have one. The more bad news is that one is plenty.

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Gophers are territorial, and usually there is just one per yard. They get together to mate and have offspring, but then it’s everyone back to their own places.

If you want to kill the gopher, trapping is the most reliable method, although it can take many attempts. Once you’ve gotten rid of it, however, another gopher might move into the empty tunnels.

You might want to think long term by planting in gopher cages that help protect the roots on your plants. You also can install an underground fence to keep a gopher from burrowing into your yard.

Gopher traps require no bait. They work simply by being in the pathway of the gopher, who unwittingly crawls into the trap and is killed.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>