A few months after we moved into our house in Quincy, the turkeys took over the yard.
Several of them just showed up one day, looking plump and prehistoric and traipsing all over the lawn we’d just seeded. This was annoying, but our turkeys were not aggressive. They scattered when we opened the back door, and we preferred to leave them alone back there to do their turkey business. Quite soon, we grew fond of them.
And so on Sunday, as I lowered a fat, salt-and-sugar rubbed bird into a pot of 350 degree oil -- early Thanksgiving with the in-laws — I felt a twinge of remorse: Maybe it should have been a Canada goose.
Turkeys — the official game bird of Massachusetts and the semi-official star of Thanksgiving — roost uneasily near the top of our national bird hierarchy. They are delicious enough for an elaborate annual feast, but not so delicious that anyone really wants to cook one whole on any other day. They’re majestic enough to marvel at from your kitchen window, but not above attacking a passing car.
On Tuesday, President Trump continued the annual tradition of pardoning a turkey (this one was named Drumstick). I figured he’d prefer the turkeys who didn’t get captured, but no matter: once again, two birds were absolved of the high crime of being a turkey.
But Canada geese? Our relationship with them is saddled with no such complications. They’re invasive and destructive and they poop all over everything. The state has special hunting seasons to encourage shooting specifically the Canada geese that live here year round. For a few weeks in September, you can shoot seven in a day. This sounds like a lot, but there are some golf courses on which you could easily get twice that many armed only with a 9-iron.
And yet still they fly into jet engines all over the country like it’s their stupid goose job.
Goose: Did you hear about Gus?
Other Goose: No, what happened?
Goose: Flew right into a jet engine. The plane had to ditch.
Other Goose (tearfully): . . . Well, I guess he died doing what he loved: Flying into planes.
Turkeys? No such problems. The only way a turkey is taking down an airliner is if it’s launched, still frozen, from some idiot’s backyard fryer in Winthrop.
Now, it’s true that the turkeys that you find shrink-wrapped at the supermarket this time of year are of course not the same polite Quincy turkeys (Quirkeys?) that prance around in my yard. Nor are they the rogue feathered hell-beasts you read about snarling traffic or performing weird rituals around dead cats.
But even what small havoc turkeys do cause is kind of out of character, according to Marion Larson, chief of information and education at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
“There’s been so much play about the aggressive turkeys in the media,” Larson said, but the truth is that it’s just a few turkey jerks causing all the trouble — maybe 5 percent of the turkey community. When local law enforcement call with questions about how to deal with a rogue rafter of turkeys menacing Main Street, the wildlife division advises them to identify and take out the troublemakers.”
“Figure out which ones are the ringleaders. It’s not hard,” Larson said, conjuring images of a small town police chief interrogating a turkey under a single swinging light bulb.
Turkeys are native to Massachusetts, but for a good 120 years they were all but extinct here, according to a MassWildlife history of the turkey. In the 1970s, state biologists released 37 turkeys trapped in New York into the Berkshires. Almost 50 years later, there are now about 25,000 in the state.
How many Canada geese are living in Massachusetts? Too many. And they mostly keep themselves off of American dinner plates by simply being as vile as possible. They are, by some accounts, delicious — lean meat the color of beef enveloped in a thick layer of fat like duck. But the whole thing feels suspiciously like serving up a roasted raccoon.
So instead, for reasons that are mostly in our heads, we’ll feast on a much more pleasant bird — a bird whose recent reputation for troublemaking is, it turns out, the work of a few bad eggs.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos