Saturday, April 21, 2012

Eastern Wild Turkey: Jakes Fighting

I have been spending most mornings and evenings photographing the Eastern Wild Turkey Mating season. At this point it seems that due to the early warm spell that we had in late winter and early spring, the peak of the strutting and gobbling activity has passed. In fact I have not seen a mature gobbler strutting in the past week, although I have seen jakes (immature gobblers) doing so. I see a flock of jakes each day and these are some of the most combative birds that I have encountered. If a solitary mature gobbler, or pair of gobblers get close to them, they will attack--sometimes in a flying V military type formation. Sometimes they even fall out among themselves. This happened on Thursday morning, and I  filmed and photographed  the longest gobbler fight I can recall seeing.

Jakes Fighting: Canon 40D-28-135mm EF IS ISO 400

 It all began with a lot of cackling and running about and then one jake grabbed another by the head with the tip of his beak.  I frantically got the video camera positioned and began filming until I captured several minutes of the action and then reached for the Canon 7D and the 300mm F2.8, which was on a tripod beside the video camera in the blind. (I took the above photo hand held at one point to get a still photo that established the scene).  

The heads were the main point of contact between the birds, and the area in which they grabbed each other changed from time to time.  In the photo below the one on the left has his upper beak rammed down the throat on the one on the right.

Headlock:  Canon 7D -300mm F2.8 IS L ISO 640 1/500 sec. f2.8

 For a time one bird controlled the other simply by grabbing it with the point of the beak.  This had to be a painful experience.

Controlling With Beak:  Canon 7D -300mm F2.8 IS L ISO 640 1/800 sec. f2.8

 In the photo below there are four birds.  The one in the back to the left and the one in front are looking on, while the two birds in the previous photo are still connected by the tip of the beak hold.  At times they would also enter the fray and in a few cases turkeys would leap in the air, kick their opponent and beat them with their wings.  I captured some of this on video, but got no good still photos.

 "Come On--Take Him Down!:  Canon 7D -300mm F2.8 IS L ISO 640 1/800 sec. f2.8
Shortly before the fight ended they walked into an area where the sunlight created a spotlight effect in the forest.  This shows how birds often entwine their necks when fighting.  It reminds one of two snakes twisted together.

 Twisted Together: Canon 7D -300mm F2.8 IS L ISO 640 1/1000 sec. f2.8

In a few more moments one of the birds decided enough was enough, broke away and left at a leisurely pace.  Soon the entire flock began moving slowly to another area and the excitement was over for the morning.

I used ISO 640 as a compromise to get a sufficiently high shutter speed to capture the action, while still having a reasonable noise level in the image.  While ISO 800 is usable with the 7D, I much prefer to stay at 400 or below--although 500 and 640 are not bad. 
Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


PaWingers said...

Wow, those were some awesome action photos. I have never been a spring gobbler hunter so I never witnessed these kinds of images. I was really surprised to see the competitiveness this time of the year. These birds can get very brutal. Great images Willard!

Ruth Hiebert said...

That looks painful.All that pain and then to just walk away from it.Yikes.