A Turkey Tale

Last year, Alex and I spent part of the spring and summer living in the foothills near Boise, Idaho while working for Idaho Bird Observatory. A few days after we drove to Idaho to start work for Idaho Bird Observatory in early April 2011, we came back to our camper trailer (home) to find a huge male Wild Turkey walking around the yard. We were staying at a property owned and managed by Idaho Fish and Game, so we thought maybe he was a pet, a kind of  Fish and Game mascot.  You could walk right up to him and he would just make his way slowly in the other direction.  He seemed to be in no real hurry to go anywhere and seemed to be enjoying his little vacation in our yard.  Turkeys really aren’t supposed to be in the foothills, but from what we heard, someone down the road had him in their yard for a few days, and we were the next lucky people to be graced with his strange presence.  So we assume he was a wild, Wild Turkey, but we really couldn’t know for sure. Over the next few days, I really started liking the turkey.  He followed me around a lot, and he was like my little own pet turkey (not that I have ever said out loud that I want a pet turkey).  On day two, he puffed up his feathers for me for a few seconds, and he looked even bigger;  borderline intimidating, but he settled down and shrunk back down to normal turkey size within a few seconds. Domestic turkeys often act this way in their pens when confronted with threats to their territory, but I wasn’t sure what Mr. Turkey was getting at quite yet.

Friend? Enemy? Pet? Turkey Dinner? So many feelings…

On day three, things got a little strange when I sat on my step to put my shoes on. Apparently, getting down at “turkey height” was a bad decision. Mr. Turkey took this the wrong way and got overly excited, and began a pretty elaborate mating display. He moved his way closer and displayed just a few inches away. I tried not to encourage him, but Alex came out and started flapping his human wings at him. Mr. Turkey got pretty livid, and no more was he quietly displaying to a potential turkey mate (not sure if I should be offended by my own writing or not), but defending his potential turkey mate from a strange turkey-human named Alex. His behaviors changed drastically, and he went into territorial mode. I think this was the point in time when Mr. Turkey put a big target on Alex’s back. You could see the anger in Mr. Turkey’s eyes. I got pretty mad at Alex as well for provoking Mr. Turkey.

I finished putting on my shoes and going about my activities with Mr. Turkey following close behind, still displaying, a bit happier now that Alex was out of the picture.  When I went in the camper, he displayed outside my window, like he knew I could see him.  I could hear his loud turkey gobbles echoing through the valley. I started feeling bad for this turkey, and it wasn’t until thinking about this story over a year later that I realize I never took offense to being mistaken for a turkey myself.

This is what a turkey looks like *before* he falls in love with you…. (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

This is what a turkey looks like *after* he falls in love with you (photo by Anna Fasoli)

Turkey? Or dinosaur? (photo by Anna Fasoli)

A little later in the day, Alex was out at his car, unpacking some things from our trip.  Within seconds Mr. Turkey, who had been waiting for me nearby, jumped on his back and was violently kicking him.  I ran out the door just in time to see Alex running for the broom, Mr. Turkey hot on his trail.  Believe it or not I ran out to defend Mr. Turkey from an inevitable broom whack, but Alex was the one that needed defended.  I felt like a school teacher breaking up the fight, getting between the two sparring males, eventually having to ‘walk’ Mr. Turkey away from Alex.  It was clear that Alex made an enemy here, and from that point on I had to escort Alex around the yard, keeping the crazed bird at bay. As long as I stayed between Mr. Turkey and Alex, there were no more fights.  The turkey even started attacking Alex’s car, but I think he was only going after his own reflection (we can never really be sure), and at one point he even pooped on it (I think on purpose).  Eventually the turkey attacked our co-worker Eddie, and started liking a female Fish and Game employee that works in a nearby trailer. I guess he gave up on me.  He would puff out his feathers as soon as we drove our truck up the driveway, and would disappear into the night, still displaying at the end of the day.  After a few weeks, he finally stopped displaying, and became more like a big yard chicken again.  In a few more days he disappeared, just as I was about to plan a turkey re-location effort to help him find a real turkey mate.  Even though we found a few turkey feathers in a nearby meadow, I can only hope he continued his quest into the valley for a more suitable non-human mate!

Anyway, the point of this story is – Happy Thanksgiving!