It’s the time of year when turkey producers dream in dollar signs. In a few months, their products will be bagged, tagged, and on sale in the frozen food department of area grocery stores. Cooks in charge of Thanksgiving dinner will be saving tasty recipes picturing birds roasted to golden perfection and surrounded by a platter of colorful accompaniments. Diners who prefer wild turkey to farm-raised stock are eyeballing native flocks to see where they feed daily and roost at dusk. While humans plan their upcoming feasts, camouflage –toned Rios and Easterns are living in the minute, enjoying a banner grasshopper crop.
This spring’s ample rains nurtured fields, yards, and ditches full of cultivated plants and weeds, favorite hopper foods. Hungry, leaping insect hordes explain why roads, fields, and yards in our area appear animated. If you ramble around your yard or a nearby field, you’ll rustle up at least a hundred prickly-legged characters who spring shoulder high from the ground and dangle from the fibers of your shirt or cling to your hair. It’s enough to make a finicky person gyrate like a 70s disco dancer.
Recently, we visited friends in the country who share their property with a number of hens, gobblers, jakes, and poults. It’s a thrill to drive up their road and spy ungainly birds wandering over pastures and into the farmyard. If it isn’t mating season, it’s eating season and these walking drumsticks have big appetites. You can count on watching them scratch and peck at any seed or insect in their vicinity. This year, grasshoppers reproduced like crazy, so plenty exist to fatten feathered foragers.
Since my friend and I enjoy gardening, I hoped to check out her little oasis. She quickly apologized, explaining how hoppers had decimated both her vegetables and flowers. I understood exactly what she meant since I had stems in my own flowerbed sporting well-gnawed leaves that looked like poorly woven fish nets. As we stood outside lamenting the sad fates of our spring dreams, part of her turkey flock wandered near, heads bobbling up and down as they gobbled grasshoppers.
In an area with so many delicacies to choose from, those poor birds struggled to decide which bug to eat first. Once they swallowed their prey, they intently moved on to the next crunchy critter. In a matter of minutes, they wiped out more than my friend and I might have squashed in a day of smacking and stomping. We quietly cheered on this squad of hens and mostly-grown poults. In the distance, gobblers worked the edges of a field, leaping into the air like a hovering basketball rebounder to snag an escaping hopper.
Perhaps some of the turkeys I watched this summer will end up as the main course of a Thanksgiving dinner. Whoever enjoys that banquet should know that turkey scored a feast that lasted for months. In fact, area gobblers heading to roost struggle to attain lift off with their stomachs full of once-leaping protein snacks.