How the Hen House Turns: Turkey and Bobbi Goose … A Hint of Wildness

How the Hen House Turns
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.
Turkey and Bobbi Goose … A Hint of Wildness

Here’s another exploration of what it means to be wild. Take Turkey (Little Bear), for example. She’s now about 11 years old, raised by two adoptive loving mothers—both White Silkie hens in our small community of geese, ducks, bird-sitting dogs, and a human providing semi-reliable afternoon treats of apple cores and honeydew melon rinds.

I wouldn’t call her wild, except when she trapped and nearly killed a marauding crow, and when she decides she doesn’t want me in the pen, like when I wear a red knit cap. Then she fluffs and struts and trills, as if I were some kind of threat. As if I hadn’t saved her from two bear attacks or taken her to school for show and tell. (It was the goose, not Turkey that got nervous when surrounded by children.)

Bobbi goose is another example of a variation on the wild theme. She honks continuously when I’m in the pen, pausing only long enough to trade nibbles of honeydew with her adoptive mother, Lucy. She’ll follow me to the gate and take a cautious nip at my pant legs, but back off quickly if I react fast enough.

If I catch her and tuck her neck under my arm, she’ll calm down, not even struggle to get loose, then go quietly away. Maybe it’s a dominance thing she’s never quite figured out. If I sit quietly when the chickens run and jump into my lap, she just watches. No honking.

First Turkey wasn’t so conflicted. She had bonded to us humans when husband Don was on sabbatical with lots of time to take her hunting crickets. Every time we came out the back door she would run to us, wings at full spread, sounding off with her joyful “ark ark ark.”

Only once did she obey her genetic programming and challenge me to a dominance contest. When I was putting feed in her tray, she pinched a chunk of flesh from the back of my hand and left a triangle-shaped bruise there with her beak.

My reaction was just as wild, or programmed? I whacked her across the top of her head three times, shouting “Stop that.” That settled it. I won. That was the end of the dominance challenge. She never pinched me again. And she still kept running to meet me at the back door.

So what is this wildness behavior? Is it genes reacting without the benefit of frontal cortex or history—what one might call common sense? They have plenty of that. None of them forget that when it gets really cold at night, they’re all supposed to sleep together in the Hen House—peacefully.

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