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Turkey Hunting Articles

Turkey Communication / Advanced Turkey Talk

by T.R. Michels


When you are calling turkeys you need to understand the meaning of the calls they use, and when and why they are used. So, let's talk turkey talk. Turkey researchers have described as many as 20 different turkey calls, which fall into six basic categories; Agonistic, Alarm, Contact, Flying, Maternal/Neonatal and Mating.


Agonistic Calls (as in agonizing, not antagonistic)
Turkeys make a number of soft Putts, Purrs, and Whines while they feed; these calls help keep the birds of flock in contact with each other, and keeps them spaced apart when their heads are down and they can't see the other birds. The birds may become uncomfortable when they get too close to each other; thus they are in agony, so to speak. When turkeys 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, or err-err-err-err. It may be followed by one or more Feeding Putts: a soft contented putt ... putt ... putt. I use these calls a few minutes after I use a Flydown Cackle, to convince the toms that there are hens on the ground and feeding. I also use these calls on toms that hang up out of range, to bring them in.
When turkeys fight they may use a Fighting Purr. This call is louder and more insistent than the Feeding Purr. The call is often interrupted by the sounds of flapping wings as the turkeys kick and neck wrestling often with each other. Turkeys hearing a fight often come running to see which birds are fighting, and which bird wins and loses. The loser often drops down in the social hierarchy, leaving room for subdominant birds to move up. I use this call to bring in dominant toms or hens when everything else fails.

Alarm Call
When a turkey becomes aware of danger it makes a loud, sharp Alarm Putt of from one to five notes: TUT ... TUT ... TUT that's used to warn other birds of danger. This call is a sign that a bird has seen a potential predator; the call and is usually followed by the bird running or flying away. Do not use this call when hunting turkeys.

Contact and Maternal/Neonatal Calls
Because the contact calls are used most often between the hen and her poults they are basically the same as the maternal/neonatal calls. When turkeys use these calls they are saying, "Here I am, where are you. The contact calls of young turkeys are the Lost Whistle, the Kee-Kee and the Kee-Kee Run. These are all high-pitched calls that get deeper as the young turkeys grow.

The Lost Whistle is the sound very young birds make, a high-pitched whistle: peep-peep-peep. As summer advances the voices of the poults change, and the Lost Whistle becomes the Kee-Kee, which usually has three notes strung together: kee-kee-kee. As fall gets nearer the young turkeys begin to add Yelps at the end of the Kee-Kee to produce the Kee-Kee Run. Many callers fail to recreate this call correctly by using only two notes, or by using up to five notes. The Kee-Kee Run is the basic Kee-Kee followed by several yelps: kee-kee-kee chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp. 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: chirp-chirp-chirp ... chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp, or some variation. There are usually three to four notes per second, with each note about .08 seconds in length. This call is one bird 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 used by turkeys when they are within seeing distance of each other. It is louder than the Tree Yelp. The call often consists of three to nine notes of the same pitch and 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. This call is louder than the Tree Yelp.

The hen uses the Assembly Yelp in the fall to regroup the young. It usually consists of 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. This call is louder than the Plain Yelp. 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 to get a tom fired up on the roost, and to keep it coming.

The Lost Yelp is much like the Plain Yelp but may contain 20 or more notes, and becomes louder toward the end. The bird's voice may "break" during the call, 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. This is the loudest of the yelp calls.

The Plain Cluck is used by turkeys when they want 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: 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 each burst: TUT-TUT ... TUT-TUT-TUT ... TUT-TUT-TUT ... TUT-TUT ... TUT-TUT-TUT or other variations. The rhythm is somewhat like the Flying Cackle, and I have used a Flying Cackle to get a tom to "shock gobble" by answering my call. I also use Fast Cutt to bring in a tom that hangs up.

Flying Call
The Flying Cackle is the sound a turkey makes as it flies up or down from the roost, or when it flies across ravines. Many hunters have difficulty with the correct tempo of this call. Actually it's quite easy, the calling of a bird in the air is directly related to the downbeat of the wing stroke, it's when the bird contracts its chest muscles and exhales, and it's the only time the bird can call. When imitating this call visualize the action of the turkey as it takes off, first with slow, powerful wing beats, then faster, then tapering off slowly before the turkey glides and lands. I often use this call to get a "shock gobble" from a tom before daylight, so I can locate the tree he is in. I also use it to get a tom to come off the roost in my direction.

Movement Sounds
There are sounds other than calling associated with different animals. The movement of the animal alone creates a sound that is associated by other animals as coming from a particular species or sex of animal. Turkeys have a particular way of walking and feeding that produces distinctive sounds; deer walk with a different tempo and volume. Turkeys also make a lot of scratching noises when they feed, along with the calls they make. If a turkey hears soft putts, purrs and whines, along with the sound of soft steps and scratching in the dirt or leaves, it thinks a flock of turkeys is feeding.

When turkeys fly down from the roost they often perform the Flying Cackle call. They also produce a flapping sound with each beat of their wings. A turkey hearing the combination of both wing beats and a Flying Cackle thinks another turkey has flown down from its roost. A turkey hearing a Fighting Purr expects to hear the other sounds associated with a fight; the sounds of flapping wings as the turkeys try to peck or kick and spur each other.

When a male turkey struts, it often Spits and Drums. The sounds of these two actions have been described as a "Chump" and a "Hum." Many hunters believe that both the Spit and Drum are vocalizations. However, after watching toms snap their wings open on gravel, and hearing a sharp "phht" sound when they do it, I believe that some of the sounds that hunters refer to as the Spit are the sounds of the wing tips snapping open or hitting the ground. At close range the sound of the wing tips of a strutting tom may also be heard dragging the ground as it struts.

The actual Spit "call" is produced when a male turkey exhales sharply through its mouth, after it has inhaled air to fill the air sack in its chest. Filling this air sack is what causes the "puffed up" appearance of a toms chest when it struts.

A male turkey may produce the sound of the Drum when it struts. The "Drum" of a tom turkey appears to be produced in the same manner as the "boom" of a Prairie Chicken; it is not produced like the "drum" of a ruffed grouse or pheasant, when they beat their wings. After listening to a domestic tom drum, and feeling its inflated chest while it produced the drum sound, I believe the Drum is caused by the vibration of air within the air sacs in the tom's chest; I suspect the breast sponge of a tom turkey is in fact an air sac.

It's not just the calls of the turkey, but the other sounds, and the actions or posture of the bird, in combination with the calls, that relays the meaning of the sounds to other turkeys. You can't recreate most of the movements and body postures of a turkey unless you use decoys. But, if you know when and why the sounds occur, you can reproduce the sounds turkeys make in the right way, and at the right time, to help you bring in a tom.



About the Author:

T. R. Michels is nationally recognized for his action-packed, informative seminars based on his experience as a wildlife researcher and professional guide.

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