A normal person who moved into a house where wild turkeys wandered the backyard might be inclined to ignore them until they went away. A normal person, once these turkeys disappeared, might describe the parting as fortunate. But since moving into our house, replete with flock of wild turkeys, my family and I have done our darnedest to bond with these big birds.
Detractors may call them birdbrains, but these turkeys ain’t no TURKEYS! They are simply fascinating. And smart. Each day they trot into our yard and wait.* They linger below my bedroom, gazing up until they see me. If I don’t hustle downstairs quickly enough, they move closer to the house. Soon they’re staring through the first floor windows, their beady eyes ablaze with hunger. If I’m really slow they gather on the back porch.
Whether we’re tossing them bread or letting them graze from the feeders, we commune all winter long. And after years with these turkeys, we’ve really come to know them. You might not know this, but turkeys are surprisingly like humans. They may not wear clothes or drive cars, but in their own way they try to out-do each other. Daily these turkeys jockey for position, and truth be told, a few of them are real jerks. Jerky turkeys? Oh yes.
Today I would like to tell you about my most favorite turkey. Wilbur. Wilbur stands out not because he is the sleekest, most substantial, wonder-turkey of them all, but the opposite. Wilbur is smaller. Slighter. Perhaps the lowest turkey on the totem pole, Wilbur is ostracized at every turn. For months I’ve seen Wilbur singled out, chased, put in his turkey place. WHY?? Because Wilbur is (how shall I say it?) under-endowed.
NO I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT HIS TURKEY MAN PART. I mean his beard. Male turkeys, like many male humans, are judged on the quality of their beards. Mature male turkeys sport thick beards which stick out from their chests and look like this:
The “best” beards are long and bushy, almost like reverse pony tails. Some male turkeys spend half their freaking day stepping on the damn things as they peck around for food. Well, Wilbur’s beard’s not like that. It’s short, really tiny actually, and scraggly. A real fem beard. I’m not just being mean; it’s true. You might not know this, but lady turkeys (like lady humans) once they reach a certain age, often do grow small beards. So for a short while I suspected Wilbur was an older female. But I was wrong. Wilbur is most definitely a boy. For one, his head isn’t blue. Lady turkeys have blue heads. Wilbur’s isn’t throbbing RED like the rest of the males; it’s more like a worn chenille bedspread, sort of faded with nubby pink bumps. Next to the rest of the engorged flock, poor Wilbur looks a little dull. But he is definitely a boy turkey.
Wilbur is different physically, but he’s also a little different mentally. I like to say that Wilbur is a ‘special needs’ turkey. That’s not to say he can’t do everything else the other high-fiving bully boys can do – and just as well, I might add. It’s just that he approaches life a little uniquely. First of all, he’s the most nervous turkey I’ve ever met. Sure, he hustles over for chow just like the others, but the minute I make a motion he isn’t prepared for, he goes flying off – feathers every which way. This likely has lots to do with the way he is treated by the rest of the males. As I said, Wilbur isn’t simply excluded from the upper echelons of turkey society, he’s harassed. He’s kept with the flock, yet apart. They don’t want him exercising his turkey freedom, by (for instance) hustling over to greet me first thing in the morning, eating the bread I deliver with gusto and generally making both of US feel good. Oh NO. He must be reminded of his under-turkey status. He must be kept from the free vittles, even when his turkey brethren are full and have no desire to eat the pickings themselves. Effing assholes.
But Wilbur and I know better. We have worked out a special system by which Wilbur can eat even when the dominant males are present and doing their utmost to keep him at bay. Wilbur eyeballs me. I eyeball him. We have contact. He sidles over to one side of me, and when the rest are too busy eating, I toss bread to him, making sure to fully satiate all his flockmates. Although I feed him almost daily, and the rest of the flock have gotten used to my behavior, it’s like for Wilbur every day is a new day. When I call to him, he comes, but as I said, he takes flight at the slightest provocation. Once he turned tail and fled violently – even shedding feathers – over nothing. Then there was the morning I woke to some strange sound from the yard. We’re accustomed to hearing the crows scream, and the chipmunks SQUEAK, even the turkeys low-pitched gobbling. But this odd tapping noise was new. Eventually it grew tiresome enough to rouse me from bed, simply to see what the hell was going on. I went to the guest room window and peered out quizzically. And there was Wilbur. Standing at the front corner of my husband’s car, repeatedly pecking the shiny chrome bumper. He obviously thought it was another male. So he would peck, peck, peck at his reflection furiously, then turn and run aaallll the way around the car, just to return to the same spot and repeat. After watching this for a moment, I called my husband to join me, and we stood gazing at the spectacle. Wilbur was clearly becoming more agitated as time wore on and was beginning to attack his reflection – not just pecking, but now thrusting his chest against the bumper in mock fighting. Like I said, a little ‘special.’
I like underdogs. I like people everyone else has discarded, or given up on. As someone who has always felt a bit different, I understand and have always despised those who look down on people (or in this case, turkeys) who aren’t like everyone else. Therefore, I like Wilbur. And I will continue to do my utmost for him, regardless of whether or not he’s ever comfortable enough to thank me by just standing calmly still.
*After, of course, they’ve hit up our next-door neighbor’s feeder. See, I told you they’re smart.