Bonding with wild turkeys

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Just in time for Thanksgiving, comes the true-life tale of a man who raised a rafter of sixteen wild turkeys, gaining a newfound understanding and deep appreciation for them in the process.    My Life as a Turkey aired on PBS last week and shows how naturalist and wildlife artist Joe Hutto immersed himself in the lives of his young charges, becoming part of a strange “tribe” for 18 months. Hutto has a strong interest in imprinting—most obvious in birds such as geese and turkeys, that imprint on their mother and follow them everywhere.  Although farmers and others had taken advantage of this phenomenon for years, Austrian scientist Konrad Lorenz was the first to document the imprinting process. The PBS film is a reenactment of the book Joe Hutto wrote about his experience, Illumination in the Flatwoods.  In it, he incubates the eggs which a farmer has left at his house in the Florida Everglades and then raises the hatchlings to adulthood.  The story chronicles Hutto’s gradual understanding of turkey communication, behavior, as well as the threats facing “his” young brood. After a rat snake manages to squeeze into the pen where Hutto houses the young turkeys, or poults, and kills one, Hutto realizes he must not only reinforce the structure, but also spend every waking minute with the poults, from dawn to dusk.  Indeed, his entire life revolves around the young turkeys.  He bonds with them to such a degree that when they reach the stage of their life where they launch into flight and settle into a tree to roost, he feels left out and clamors up the tree to join them. With their comically gangly necks coupled with surprisingly graceful bodies, the young wild turkeys follow Hutto through the Florida Everglades.  They recoil yet are fascinated when they encounter their first dead animal and seemingly are also bothered by a tree stump, which they inspect for a long while and about which they make many turkey “comments.” One of the most beautifully filmed and entertaining scenes shows Hutto strolling alongside the turkeys as they go on a “grasshopper hunt.”  With barely a pause in their stride, the turkeys expertly snatch the grasshoppers from their grassy perches, as seen in the clip below. Imprinting on ones’ parent early in life is a survival strategy.  But when young animals imprint on humans, the result is often that when the animal reaches adulthood, it is unprepared to live on its own or it interacts inappropriately with its own species or with humans, often resulting in the animal’s death.  To...

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EPA leaders talk water pollution at PBS documentary preview

PBS gave a sneak preview of its Frontline documentary, Poisoned Waters, today at the National Press Club. The featured speakers included EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and the founding EPA Administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus, who served under Richard Nixon. Both agreed that to really clean up our nation’s waterways, we need one thing: new legislation. “There is murkiness about the jurisdiction that states have within the clean water act,” said Jackson, who — see below — was filled with puns today. “Folks approach a particular wetland or stream and say ‘Do I need a permit?’ There is anything but clarity on when water means water.” In the documentary, journalist and Pulitzer prize winner Hendrick Smith explores the science and politics of the massive amounts of polluted runoff from industry, agriculture and suburban development that run into America’s waterways each year. At the sneak preview, Jackson spoke about agricultural runoff, which is one of the country’s biggest hurdles toward clean water. The documentary shows vivid images of overcrowded hog farms, chicken farms and cow ranches along riverways, pointing out that a major inland water polluter is animal manure. “As we all know, manure happens,” joked Jackson.  But she and Ruckelshaus both noted that a major obstacle toward passing legislation or reforming the Clean Water Act is to wake people up to the practices that contribute to damaged waterways — and to the idea that they are still, in fact, polluted. Ruckelshaus said that although 97 percent of people polled in the Puget Sound area feel a responsibility to keep it clean, more than 70 percent of them also think its waters are in excellent health. (They’re not.)  He stressed that the country needs rules to guide the conduct of individuals and companies in the way they interact with environment. Eventually, he thinks, the culture of quick-fixes needs to give way to real stewardship. “If we’re going to protect the environment for ourselves and all the living things we share the world with, we have to stay everlastingly at it,” he said. View a teaser for the documentary, which will air on PBS April 21 (check local listings),...

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