Let me start by saying “I know everything I did was wrong”, but my reasons for acting as I did, made sense at the time.
Turkeys, dozens of them live in the neighborhood, stopping traffic , and scaring small dogs and kids. They’d cross through my back yard on their way to someplace better and I was envious of the house that every night at dusk had these big hulking silhouettes perched on unfathomably small branches. But it’s bad to feed wild turkeys. My brother is a hunter and somewhat patronizingly told me all about survival of the fittest and how feeding all the turkeys means even the stupid ones survive, which they should not.
In the three years in this neighborhood, I fed them twice to show visiting family how beautiful the birds are (except of course for their puny ugly vulture-like heads). But then this winter happened and the birds were trying to scratch back 3 feet of packed snow to find something edible at the base of trees. Snow collected on their backs and they looked miserable and cold.
Last month I saw a press release saying that February is National Bird Feeding Month. http://www.birdfeeding.org/about-nbfs/press-kit/february-is-national-bird-feeding-month.html
As a marketer, I totally get that the proposal for a bird feeding month was sponsored by a bird food company (do you have any idea how many seeds it takes to stuff a turkey), but my resolve was beginning to crack like an egg. And when I found rejected bread crusts on the counter, and simultaneously three turkey hens passing through my yard, it was easy to rationalize that I am probably responsible for the deaths of three turkeys a year, what with Thanksgiving, Christmas and sliced turkey sandwiches. Fair play rules would indicate a need to give back. Out I went with the bread torn into pieces and tossed to the initially skittish birds. They seemed happy and polite. My husband got a little miffed when the prized Pigs Fly bread met the same fate but commented “well I guess that’s one way to stuff a turkey, but most people prefer to wait until the bird is dead and cleaned”. And then he brought home a 25lb bag of bird seed. In no time we had 45 birds and a 25lb bag lasted less than a week.
When the boys (toms) first started showing up with their beards and red/blue heads, they were easy to dismiss as ruffians. They attacked and chased the girls. Then one, the biggest, started strutting his stuff, doing his little slow-mo saunter to show the ladies his best side. He walked in circles because he obviously considered every side his best. His mating dance was routinely ignored by all the women, except me. I’ve never been drawn to hulking/hunky football types; give me a brain, the ability to fix stuff, and a slightly warped sense of humor and I lost my heart, but puffed up show offs never did it for me. As I’d cross from one end of our long balcony to the other, he would follow on the ground below. Without realizing it, I’d stayed outside with my camera long enough for the battery and my finger tips to succumb to the cold. This Stanley Kowalski turkey was hypnotizing me. And as he hypnotized, one of his cronies audaciously flew right onto the railing as I was standing there with the bird seed container. The tom didn’t love me; he was using me to get more food for his boys. He turned to peck a hen who got too close to his entitlement. There were little downy feathers strewn about. The girls would squawk and leave a wide swath for the brute. Eventually I saw a few drops of blood.
So another bird became my focus. “Feather” had a large striped feather jutting from her body at an odd angle. She’d been attacked and now stayed on the fringe of the flocks. I countered by becoming more adept at flinging bird seed to remote areas of the yard to ensure she and the other bullied hens like her had something to eat. I wanted my patch of land to be a safe haven for the girls. They did all the work; waiting vigilantly for food only to have it denied them when the men came strutting in and took more than their share. My husband deliberately tried to ruffle my feathers saying “the girls liked being dominated “, he hasn’t been seen for a while now.
I began to wonder if my misguided good intentions had brought this on. I checked with Mass Audubon for an answer, knowing all the while that guys are just bad news, they seem to be the source of violence regardless of the species. The website stated that turkeys typically separate by sex for the winter. My food had drawn them all together. We all read in high school that over-crowded conditions cause animals to attack each other. In another sentence I learned turkeys can go for up to two weeks without food. I have been doing the wrong thing. http://www.massaudubon.org/Nature_Connection/wildlife/index.php?subject=Birds:%20Species&id=63
Turkeys are noble creatures and according to Ben Franklin far more deserving of being our national symbol than eagles. (He makes a pretty good case for this in his letter to his daughter. http://www.greatseal.com/symbols/turkey.html ). And I’m prepared to compromise. We’ve had over 5 feet of snow, with two new storms predicted next week. Starvation is a cruel way to die so I will continue to feed until a patch of earth can be seen around the tree trunks and then the birds are on their own. And I will go back to looking for signs of a spring thaw, and maybe my husband.
© 2011 Alison Colby-Campbell