Ask the Naturalist: Wild Turkey vs. White-Tailed Kite?

September 25, 2014

Q: In Davis recently, I saw a pair of White-Tailed Kites trying to chase something out of their nest at the top of a 60-foot-tall pine tree. It turns out a Wild Turkey was in the nest, it eventually flew away. I didn’t know turkeys got that high up in trees. [Mike, Cupertino]

A: This is a fascinating sighting and I would never have imagined putting White-tailed Kites and Wild Turkeys in the same sentence. Kites fly around open grasslands and nest in trees, while turkeys spend their time looking for seeds and insects in open brushy areas.

There could be several things going on here. Even though Wild Turkeys readily slurp down insects and small lizards and snakes, it is highly unlikely that they could eat bird chicks. But try telling this to a parent White-tailed Kite!

The kites probably just didn’t want this huge bird near their nest because there’s no way of knowing what a turkey wants to eat next. Most nesting birds are fiercely territorial and will readily attack much larger birds, mammals, and humans in defense of their nest sites.

And it’s no surprise that the turkey was in the tree; in fact, wild turkeys fly up into trees every evening to roost for the night. Maybe the turkey was checking out a new roost site and it is likely that the turkey found itself as startled by the encounter as the kites did!

About the Naturalist
Naturalist and writer David LukasOur guest naturalist this week is David Lukas, author of the bird guides Bay Area Birds and Sierra Birds. David grew up on the Oregon coast and began studying natural history at the age of five. He had a roomful of aquariums and launched daylong collecting “expeditions” into neighborhood swamps and forests in search of everything squirmy, slimy, and scaly. After teaching nature programs in Marin County for the past four years, David recently moved back to the Sierra Nevada and now lives on 10 acres just outside of Yosemite National Park, where he offers guided tours. Learn about David Lukas’ guidebooks and tours on his website, LukasGuides.com.

About the Author

David Lukas is a naturalist and author of the new book Sierra Nevada Birds (lukasguides.com).