Recording features wild turkeys at dawn, calling from their roost in a cottonwood tree. 1 May 2021. Aravaipa Canyon not far from Klondyke, Arizona. Recording and accompanying art representation © Lang Elliott.
Note: The recording featured above is a “3D binaural soundscape”. Please wear headphones for a profound listening experience that will make you think you’re actually out there, immersed in the natural world!
Wild Turkeys are extremely wary of humans and are usually very difficult to record, except in areas where they are not hunted and have not developed a fear of humans. Such is the case, at least for the time being, in the forested riparian zone in Aravaipa Canyon, a remote desert oasis about a hundred miles east of Phoenix, Arizona.
The native “Gould’s” subspecies (Meleagris gallopavo mexicana) was once common in the mountains and canyons of southeastern Arizona, but was virtually eradicated by the early 1900s, due to over-hunting. Fortunately, a serious reintroduction effort was begun in 2003, with turkeys captured in Mexico being transported to various locations in Arizona’s “sky mountains.” This project has been incredibly successful, and there are now an estimated 1200 (or more) individuals in the region.
During my recent visit to Aravaipa Canyon, I made a special effort to get high quality wild turkey recordings. With a little sleuthing, I was able to locate the nighttime roost of a flock of about ten individuals, in a towering cottonwood tree near the head of the canyon, in The Nature Conservancy’s Aravaipa Canyon Preserve. Having obtained permission from the refuge manager, and well before first light, I carefully approached the tree, moving as quietly as possible in order not to disturb the turkeys (which, in retrospect, didn’t seem bothered by me rustling in the brush below their perches). I set my soundscape mic almost directly under the tree and then left it there to document the calling that occurs at dawn, before the turkeys finally fly to the ground and quickly move away from their roost.
When I listened to my recording later in the day, I was impressed by how pristine and clear it is. Such a wonderful mix of the sounds made by the turkeys and the abundance of other rather low-key nature sounds occurring in the background. I was so enthused by the result that I tried again the next morning, accompanied by fellow recordist Christine Hass of Wild Mountain Echoes. The results of my second try were nice, but much of that recording ended up being fowled by a pesky bell’s vireo that sang loudly from a nearby perch for minutes on end. Oh well, that’s the way of things, I guess … all it takes is one unwelcome loudmouth to make a mess of it all!
I am pleased that this flock was located at the head of the canyon, where the creek bed is dry as a bone. Farther downstream, it is nearly impossible to get away from the loud gurgle of Aravaipa Creek, which is ubiquitous (unless one explores various side canyons). I managed to capture several other wild turkey recordings during my stay, but none compare to this splendid portrayal of individuals calling from the cottonwood tree at the break of dawn.
In conclusion, I think you’ll agree that I truly deserve some kind of reward for doing such a good job … so maybe if everyone claps loudly for a moment or two to cheer me on, I’ll hear the applause as it precipitates out of the digital ether, and falls like rain all around me. Oh my … that would be supremely refreshing indeed! Actually, though … just leave a comment below and that will cheer me up for sure.
What to listen for:
Various turkey sounds can be heard, including the yelps of females and immatures, the gobbles of males, and occasional outbursts of liquid, staccato chirts or purts, which signify alarm (perhaps they saw a hawk fly by?). Listen carefully and you’ll hear another amazing sound, made by the males … a sudden thump! or chump! followed by a very low pitched hum that rises slightly in pitch at the end (your headphones need to have good bass response in order for you to hear this). This sound is a bit of a mystery. To my ear, the introductory thump! sounds like it’s made by a sudden movement of the feathers, while the hum … well, I simply don’t know how that is produced.
In the background, listen for the coos of both white-winged and mourning doves. A cardinal sounds off at times. A red-tailed hawk screams loudly one time, and a gray hawk gives musical whistles toward the end. Gila woodpeckers call in the distance. And then there’s the cow moos and rooster crows. And some high-pitchy bird songs I can’t identify. Please let me know what you hear, species in the background that I’ve missed.
p.s. Note that the photo at the top of my post is an “art portrayal.” I was unable to get any good shots of turkeys in the cottonwood tree, but I felt I needed a strong image to set the mood. So I constructed one using a photo of a dead tree limb on a cottonwood that I took today near my home in upstate New York. Then I replaced the sky with a sunrise I photographed during one of my many journeys, and finally I added a turkey silhouette that I found on the internet (free clip-art). So … the image at the top is “artwork” my friends, not an actual photograph! I trust you’re not disappointed.
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