Talking turkey: Big birds can be peckish neighbors
I have a decidedly thorny relationship with the dozen or so wild turkeys who have made my Braintree neighborhood their home for close to two years.
In a commentary about the state of my groundskeeping and gardening skills, a crazed mob of them tore up two chunks of the yard a couple of months ago in a very successful attempt to gorge themselves on the grubs who hid just underneath the surface.
I believe I heard one of the birds cry “Soup’s on!” as they packed together and scratched and clawed their gluttonous way to the food, pointing out areas where I might want to reseed in the spring.
During an aviary meeting of MENSA last summer, they attacked my neighbor’s black car after seeing themselves reflected on it and assuming it was a gaggle of hostile outsiders.
They have returned many times since, laughing at my attempts to protect my turf.
They fear not our Massachusetts drivers. They insist on crossing a busy West Street — which connects the also very busy Washington Street with the notorious Five Corners intersection — at great risk to turkey, wing, leg and, my favorite, breast.
In a “Make Way for Ducklings” display of compassion, my fellow Braintree drivers are unfailingly polite and allow the entire turkey train to pass by peacefully, no matter how backed up traffic gets.
Interim Deputy Chief Sean Lydon, who handles media relations for the Braintree Police, said the number of turkey calls the department gets now are fewer than a few years back, with many of them eventually ending up in the lap of Animal Control Officer Dave Littlewood.
“I think people are just getting used to them,” Lydon said.
Driving around town at night, you can see the turkeys roosting in the trees; some have been known to settle 40 or 50 feet high. Males can, according to hunting websites, weigh up to 25 pounds.
A few years ago, the police were receiving calls almost daily about an aggressive turkey on Common Street.
“He eventually got his own Facebook page,” said Lydon.
Another aggressive sort ruled the roost on Liberty Street, near the South Middle School, where it inserted itself into the traffic mix and was not above mixing it up with students.
While off on a run last summer, I spotted a dozen turkeys roosting on the roof of a nearby home that had a high fence around the entire yard and pool. They were soaking in the sun, a form of self-basting, I suppose.
According to the state’s website, mass.gov, when Massachusetts was first settled by Colonists, the wild turkeys were widespread, but the loss of habitat led to their downfall in the state, and the last known native bird was killed in 1851.
The renaissance began in the 1970s, when state wildlife biologists trapped 37 turkeys in New York and released them in the Berkshires. The mix of agricultural and forested lands proved ideal for the flock, which increased to an estimated 1,000 by the fall of 1978.
Word got out that if you were a turkey, you could make it in Massachusetts. Birds flocked in from adjacent states, and soon turkeys could be found in most parts of Massachusetts west of the Connecticut River.
The state continued to bring in out-of-state birds until 1996, expanding their range into the central, northeastern, and southeastern parts of Massachusetts. The estimated state population today is more than 25,000.
Wild turkeys are classified as game birds, and there is a management program in place and two regulated hunting seasons a year.
A certain Founding Father had a particular fondness for the wild turkey, according to a January 2013 article on www.smithsonianmag.com, referencing a letter held by the Franklin Institute.
In a letter to his daughter, Benjamin Franklin questions the choice of the bald eagle as the national bird, and then spends several hundred words trashing its character, accusing it of laziness and cowardice, before expounding on the turkey’s qualities.
“For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
It would be hard to take if our National Bird was something that attacks its own reflection or lacks the good sense not to cross West Street at rush hour.
But how does the bald eagle go with stuffing, gravy, and mashed potatoes?