How To Deal With Turkeys

How To Deal With Turkeys February 26, 2013


by Rand Walker

Turkeys are considered the essence of ineptness and stupidity. Perhaps they are categorized unfairly, but nonetheless, the word “turkey” carries negative connotations when it refers to certain people or undesirable events in our lives. Sometimes, we invite turkeys into our lives; other times, they show up unannounced or are driven into our space by something or someone else. This is a true anecdote about such as incident in my life a few weeks ago.

Some background is needed to set the scene. I live in a rural area that seems like a wildlife reserve at times. It is not unusual to see deer by the dozens grazing in the front yard or to hear hawks screaming overhead because they are being dive-bombed and aggravated by crows, or they are circling slowly, hunting for prey. Coyotes howling at night are a normal occurrence, but they have been heard howling before sunset, their otherworldly yelps and chortles growing closer together as two of them locate each other. Hence, turkeys wandering through the yard or in the woods just feet from my house are considered normal and part of the territory.

A nearby neighbor has a dog named, Joe. He is a German Shepherd/Border Collie mix who wandered up when he was a puppy more than five years ago. His pleasant, friendly nature endears him to us, so we feed him at my house, and he stops by on his rounds to visit. One peculiar thing about Joe is that he is very reluctant to enter the house, even the sunroom. Why this is important will become clear, later.

There is an 18’ by 12’ sunroom attached to the rear of my house with glass doors and panels around three sides. The doors can be opened and the screens slid into place. It was a sunny, quiet mid-spring Sunday evening, and two of the sunroom doors were opened with the screens in place. I have a cat, Missy, who is very skittish, and she was curled up on the loveseat in the sunroom, napping like most cats do during the day. I was in my recliner in the living room, reading a book. The door between the sunroom and the kitchen was open. Basking in the quiet and the solitude, I was engrossed in my book when suddenly, I heard a loud sound that had the qualities of both a thud and a crash, followed by the cat’s claws scratching for traction as she hastily made her exit from the sunroom, down the corridor to the basement steps, and into the basement. My first thought was, What the hell has that cat knocked over?  She likes to climb, and there is a bar-height table in the corner of the room along with a couple of lamps and plant stands scattered around the room. I laid my book to the side and rose from the recliner, reluctantly, and walked through the kitchen toward the open door to the sunroom. I was not prepared for what I saw.

Standing in the sunroom mere feet away, looking frightened and startled, was a huge tom turkey (This means a male turkey for you city people). He was a very large turkey: I would guesstimate around 30 pounds or better; his head came up to my chest, and I am about 6-feet-tall. What a beautiful creature. A beard (loose skin beneath his beak) hung down his neck at least 8 inches or more. I would have had difficulty closing my hand around his head if I had wanted to. His legs were long and spindly, but his feet were two-thirds the size of my hands with claws at least 3 inches long. His head, neck, legs, and feet were a composite of bright blues, reds, and pinks. He was frozen in position, his wings slightly spread, his head drawn back and cocked to the side just enough to focus on me standing in the doorway, with a look of disbelief and startled much like the poor turkey.

Our stare-down lasted only seconds, but it felt like minutes to me. My brain was not fully convinced my eyes were working properly. Then my attention was slowly drawn to Joe, standing just outside the door of the sunroom in the backyard. He looked as if he was smiling, his tail wagging, as if to say, “Look what I brought you.” Keeping the frozen and obviously-scared turkey in my vision field, I let my eyes wander to the right where the screen mesh, once tightly fitted in the door frame, was hanging loose. Apparently, Joe had come upon the turkey, somewhere, and chased him into the corner where one wall of the sunroom and the exterior house wall meet. Cornered, the turkey had run through the screen, busting it loose from the retaining channel, and he had stormed into the sunroom. The poor cat was scrambling for her life because she wanted nothing to do with a bird the size of that turkey. In other words, he was bigger than any “tweety bird” she had ever seen!

The turkey began to recover from his immobile state, and he was now running toward the other screen and the glass panels. I knew I had to remove him from the sunroom before he damaged more than he already had. But his size and his claws deterred me from wrangling him like livestock, so I backed up slowly and closed the door between the kitchen and the sunroom. Then I went out the front door and came around to the sunroom. Naturally, Joe took up his position on the opposite side of the sunroom waiting for the turkey to move toward him, back through the already damaged screen. The turkey was starting to panic even more, and I was expecting him to run through the other screen or turn furniture and fixtures over as he struggled to find an escape route.

Finally, I opened the screen door opposite the one he came through, and moved away from the door into the backyard. The turkey watched me move away, took one last look at Joe, put his head forward and down, and bolted through the open door. I did not realize how fast a turkey could run! He ran the 20 feet or so into the woods and over a small embankment, and I thought he had made his escape; when suddenly, Joe streaked by me and dove over the embankment where the turkey had disappeared. I had forgotten how fast he could move! The turkey began to vocalize now, and unfortunately, Joe killed the turkey. It appeared that Joe was acting on his herding instincts since he is part Border Collie, but he would not let the turkey escape until the turkey eventually died of exhaustion. I was not very happy about this turn of events, because I did not want the turkey to be harmed. But dogs will be dogs, and turkeys will be turkeys.

What are the moral implications of this story? When turkeys appear in your life, whether you let them in, or they are driven into your space by other forces, don’t panic and make things worse. Calmly assess the situation, compartmentalize and isolate the turkey, and provide an escape route; then move out of the turkey’s way!

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