How I terrified my wild turkeys

By Edward Achorn

Several years ago, I moved from the suburbs to a more rural area of woods and farms. I set up in an 1840s-era house with a barn on five acres of land. Old stone walls run around the property. A river across the street wends its way 11 miles to the sea. Down the road, where an 18th-century mill once stood, is a lovely little waterfall.

At times I am wont to see a doe and fawn in the back yard. Seven years ago, I was visited routinely by a flock of wild turkeys who rooted through the leaves as they made their way from the back to the front lawn (see above).

They gobbled, and craned their necks, and tilted their heads. Though some people contend turkeys are nasty and violent, I was happy to be visited by these emissaries from the wild world.

Because they have little brains and a tendency to stare off blankly into space, many people think wild turkeys are stupid. This is a false impression, Winslow Umberger, the head of the group Appalachian Wild, told the Laurel of Asheville, North Carolina.

In truth, “they are quite intelligent and adept at escaping predators and adapting to their environments. They are exceptionally wary, which makes them challenging to hunt. They have extremely good eyesight and hearing and, if they could smell, we might never see them.”

Benjamin Franklin famously celebrated the virtues of the wild turkey in a January 26, 1784 letter to his daughter, Sarah. “For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country,” he wrote. The eagle was “a bird of bad character,” stealing food from other birds.

While Franklin considered the eagle “a rank coward,” he found the wild turkey “a bird of courage” that “would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”

Soon after moving to my place, I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving by buying a fresh turkey rather than the frozen behemoths at the local supermarket. A local “farm” sells fresh birds every Thanksgiving. The mobs coming to buy are so big that police must direct traffic on the busy road outside.

It is a bit of a scam. The crowd of white-feathered turkeys convening outside, and loudly gobbling, are not the victims. They are rented from local farms, purely for show. The birds for sale — at an astronomical price — are hauled in aboard refrigerated trucks from a southern state.

Oh well, I tried it once.

On Thanksgiving Day, as I was pulling my fragrant, high-class bird out of the oven, I looked out of the kitchen window.

My flock of wild turkeys had stopped just outside the window. One of them, I swear, stared at my face in horror as I held the great pan containing her distant cousin.

The flock trotted away toward the front lawn.

I never saw them again, even to this day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(Read Edward Achorn’s books about American history.)


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