How The Hen House Turns: Turkeys As Persons

Talking turkey. Courtesy photo

By Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

I had fun yesterday, hearing and watching the Reservoir Hill turkeys—big brown ones—gobble when they saw me coming up the road. They disappeared down the hill in the grass. I hurried back down and was delighted to find them crossing the road. If they saw me, they didn’t care, for I was 30 yards away, slowed to a leisurely walk.

They took their time climbing the left bank and moving through an old barbed wire fence. Hoping to catch up to them, I hurried down the hill, through the gate to Sausal Pond (a 300-yard-long wildlife site), and back up the Windy Hill road. There they were, strolling up the wide dirt path. I followed at a distance while they grazed.

Three bicycles whizzed by. A fourth stopped to ask if I’d seen a cell phone on the road—poor guy. He was one of the many cyclists who dress in bright patterns and exercise on the roads that lace the hills up to Skyline Blvd. “The turkeys are all over out here,” he said. “A great day.” I hope he found his phone.

Earlier in this column, I’ve told the amazing story of two dozen turkeys meeting and greeting one morning in full view on the Reservoir Hill meadow, just as we arrived on there with our daughter visiting from St. Louis. We haven’t seen them since, only heard them gobble far off in the Open Space hills somewhere. Other, black and white pebbled turkeys had been seen on the north end of  our community. They seem to be street-smart. Some brown turkeys are said to be aggressive, but we have only experienced a triggered avoidance at some distance.

So it was with the Hen House turkeys—they had different personalities. I have told about raising Turkey One, who was firmly bonded to us, after growing up chasing grasshoppers with husband Don. When she challenged me with a rather fierce nip, I responded with a slap on the head and won the dominance battle. She was a pussy-cat after that, running up to greet us with an “ark ark ark” whenever we appeared in the back yard.

Turkey Two was raised by a loving mother duck. She responded with a full display of feathers and an aggressive whack at me, when I tried to tell her I was boss. I would stay in the pen as long as I liked. She didn’t like me hanging around too long in Her Pen, and she never capitulated, until the hour that she died. When she didn’t seem normal one day, I picked her up to take her back to the Hen House yard, and she didn’t object.

A little later I found her body in the Hen House door. The other bird ─ four ducks, two geese and a chicken — were standing around her. When they saw me and their watchdog DeeDee approaching, they all voiced the news, clucking and honking at us. I knelt beside Turkey’s body and explained that she was dead, “all gone, done.” Did I really think that they needed an explanation? In any case, we shared some time in memorial, then I bagged our 12-year-old friend. She would nourish the coyotes who lived next door in the canyon.