and game callers may not realize that communication among animals is not
just sound, it is a combination of sounds, body posture, movement, and,
in mammals, scent. The difference in the meaning between two calls that
sound alike is often the body posture or movement of the animal making
When you are calling, you need to understand the meaning of the call, and when it is used. Unless you are using decoys, it is difficult for you to recreate the body posture or movement associated with the call.
Turkey Movement Sounds
When turkeys fly down from the roost they often perform a call referred to as the "flying cackle." They also produce a flapping sound with each beat of their wings. A turkey hearing the combination of both wing beats and "cackle" thinks another bird has flown down from its roost. A turkey hearing a fighting purr expects to hear the other sounds associated with a fight. When two birds fight they jump into the air while they flap their wings and try to peck or kick and spur each other. When a turkey struts it often spits and drums. At close range the sound of the wing tips of a strutting tom may be heard dragging the ground.
As you can see it's not just the call, but the other sounds, and the action or posture of the body, in combination with the call that relay meaning to other turkeys. You cannot recreate most of these movements and body postures, but if you know when and why they occur you can produce the calls and sounds associated with the movements and postures at the proper time.
When they make these calls they are saying, "This is my space, don't get to close." The Feeding Whine or Purr sounds like the call made by a feeding chicken; a soft errr. It may be followed by one or more Feeding Putts; a soft contented putt, putt. I use these calls shortly after I use a flydown cackle, to convince a tom that there are hens on the ground and feeding. I also use it on toms that hang up out of range, to calm them down.
Social Contact and Maternal/Neonatal Calls
The contact calls of young turkeys are the Lost Whistle, Kee-Kee and the Kee-Kee Run. These are all high pitched calls that change as the young turkey grows.
The Lost Whistle is the sound very young birds make. It is a high pitched whistle; peep, peep, peep, peep. As summer advances the voices of the poults change and the Lost Whistle becomes the Kee-Kee; a lower coarser kee, kee, kee. It usually has three unevenly spaced notes in about a second, with each note .10 to .15 seconds in length. Many callers fail to recreate this call correctly by using only two notes, or by using up to five notes. Maybe the name of the call should be changed to the Kee-Kee-Kee.
As fall approaches the young turkeys begin to add yelps at the end of the Kee-Kee and produce the Kee-Kee Run. The Kee-Kee Run is the basic Kee-Kee followed by several yelps; kee-kee-kee, chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp. The notes of this call are unevenly spaced, with each note from .05 to .10 seconds in length. All three of these lost calls are used by the young to tell their mother they are lost and to trying to get back together. I use these calls in the fall, after I have scattered a flock.
Adult turkeys use many different yelps and clucks to keep in contact in different situations. Most Yelps are the same as the "Here I am, where are you?" call of geese and other flocking birds, which is used to keep the birds in contact with each other.
The Tree Yelp is often the first sound of the day, a soft, nasal, three to five note call performed while the birds are on the roost before daylight. It is a soft chirp-chirp-chirp ... chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp, or a variation. There are usually three to four notes per second, with each note being about .08 seconds in length. This call is used by a bird when it is telling the others it is awake and asking if there are other birds nearby and awake. This is the first call I use in the morning, to see if there are toms in the area and still on the roost.
The Plain Yelp is performed when the turkeys are within seeing distance of each other. It often consists of three to nine notes, all on the same pitch and of the same volume, with three to four notes per second, and each note lasting .08 to .10 seconds; chirp, chirp, chirp. I use this call when toms are up close, or within seeing distance of the decoys.
The Lost Yelp is much like the Plain Yelp but may contain twenty or more notes, and it becomes louder toward the end of the call. The bird's voice may "break" as it tries to make the call as loud as possible, which causes it to have a raspy sound. There may be from three to four notes per second, with each note lasting .10 to .15 seconds.
The Assembly Yelp is used by the hen in the fall to regroup the young. It usually consists six to ten or more evenly spaced yelps that are loud and sharp, with two to four notes per second, and each note lasting from .12 to .20 seconds. I often hear hens make a loud, long series of yelps while they are on the strut during the breeding phase. I am not sure if this is an Assembly Yelp or a Lost Yelp. But, I do know that toms often show up in areas where hens are making this call. I use Lost Yelps and Assembly Yelps to get a tom fired up on the roost, and to keep it coming once it is on the ground.
The Plain Cluck is used by turkeys to get the visual attention of another bird. It is primarily a close range contact call, again saying "Here am I, where are you?" A bird making this call wants to hear another bird make the same call so they can get together. It is a sharp, short sound, similar to the alarm putt but not as loud or as insistent; tut...tut. The notes of the cluck are often separated by as much as three seconds, which distinguishes it from the faster, closely spaced Fast Cutt. I often hear hens use several soft Clucks and Purrs while they are feeding. It sounds like putt, putt, putt, errr, putt .... putt, putt, putt, errr. I use this call when a tom hangs up nearby, or to stop it for a shot.
The Fast Cutt, or Cutting, is one turkey using the "Here I am, where are you?" but telling the other bird "If we are going to get together you have to come to me." It is a loud insistent call, and the notes are strung together in bursts of two's and three's, with about a second between bursts. It sounds like; TUT...TUT...TUT, TUT. TUT .TUT, TUT...TUT...TUT, TUT...TUT... TUT, TUT... TUT, or any variation of clucks. The rhythm is somewhat like the Flying Cackle, and I have used a Flying Cackle to get a tom to "shock gobble." I also use this call to bring in a tom that hangs up.
If you are trying to imitate this call visualize the action of the turkey as it takes off, first with slow powerful wing beats, then faster, and tapering off slowly before gliding and landing. I often use this call to get a "shock gobble" from a tom before daylight, so I can locate the tree it is in. I also use it to get a tom to come off the roost in my direction.
Gobbling is a means of long distance communication and the tom may expect the hen to come to him, if she is ready to breed. However, I often see toms arrive at the strut where the hens are already calling. Whether the toms are responding to the calling of the hens or not I am not sure.
Use a gobble only when you are sure there are no other hunters in the area, because they may mistake you for a turkey. Hens in the presence of a tom may Whine, causing the tom to begin strutting. The medium pitched single drawn out errr of the Whine or Purr may be used by the hen to get the male to prove how large, colorful and healthy it is. I use this call when toms are close, to convince them there is a hen nearby.
Many hunters and turkey researchers have reported that a turkey's tail vibrates when the turkey drums. I do know that when peacocks display by fanning their tail they drum by vibrating the feather shafts of their tail together in what is called a "harmonic rustle." This made me wonder if the drum of a turkey is not also produced by some movement of the tail feathers vibrating together. When I asked Lovett Williams about this he told me he had heard an Ocellated turkey without a tail perform the drum, which suggests that the drum is not produced by the vibration of tail feathers. He was not sure how the bird produced the sound, or whether the spit and drum are vocalizations.
On April 14, 2000, I had the opportunity to observe two domestic penned toms, and to solve the mystery of how these two sounds are produced. Luckily the two domestic birds were extremely tame and allowed me to get close enough to hear both the spit and drum as close as 6 inches away. As I sat near the toms I could hear them inhaling and exhaling deeply, and noted that when the Spit was performed the bird opened it's mouth and expelled air. This Spit was often followed by the drum; a low volume, deep pitched humming sound.
I noticed that the tom's body, especially the tail, vibrated when the drum was produced. When I put my hand on the bird's body I found that the chest (not the lungs) was inflated, suggesting that the birds have large air sacs beneath the skin of the chest region. This area was warm to the touch and I could feel it vibrate when the drum was produced. As a result of this I suspect that the Drum is produced by some movement of the air within the sacs of the bird's chest.
Because the Drum may be produced in the same way as the "booming" of a Prairie Chicken, it may eventually have to be renamed the "Boom." Groups of toms, and dominant toms, may respond to the Spit and Drum of other toms out of dominance. But, subdominant toms and jakes may be scared off, because they are afraid of being attacked by a dominant.
*This article is an excerpt from the Turkey Addict's Manual ($14.95) by T.R. Michels.
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