It’s no secret that I don’t love the wild turkeys. It’s not an exaggeration some days to say I hate the huge feathered, giant flying crap machines. Their introduction to this corner of northern Washington county is enough to make me ask out loud “why weren’t they thinking when they decided to do this?”
My domestic Bourbon Red tom doesn’t like the wild turkeys but his five hens are in love. The wild toms fan out and strut around the outside of the pen their pen while the hens practically blow kisses to them. “Come on Big Boy, fly over the fence.” My tom fights through the chicken wire with the wild toms. If my birds are outside in their own open space, where they belong, feathers and blood fly if I don’t see what’s going on soon enough to break it up by sending out a dog to bark at them.
They’re pests in the garden from spring through fall. The garden is large and some of it can’t be seen from the house. They take dust baths in the freshly planted soil, scratch up seeds, walk on seedlings, poop on food, eat greens, and peck at ripe vegetables. If I don’t get the dropped apples cleaned up before they wander through each day they stay for an easy meal. I have working farm dogs to help keep pests away but I can’t leave them outside if I’m not home, and they need breaks now and then when the weather isn’t good.
It takes less than 15 minutes for 38 Eastern wild turkeys to decimate the greens on a 100′ row of mature rutabagas. I didn’t need that row to sell at market so I watched and timed them. If I’d needed them for market and hadn’t been home to stop them, I couldn’t have sold the rutabagas because of the raw manure dropped on them. They’re hell on ripe corn if the ears are within reach.
Branches of young fruit trees snap under the weight of full grown turkeys. Their claws poke holes in the poly covering on my greenhouse and high tunnels. They poop on the roof of the barn and hen house, in the driveway, in the garden and in front of the mailbox.
I kind of hate the turkeys. But not completely. I do have a soft spot for them. They’ve established themselves here in a place they didn’t live prior to “re”-introduction.
I respect them for the challenge they give me when I’m hunting. They have excellent hearing and vision. They’re intelligent enough to realize that no matter how loud and long the 80 pound elderly dog barks at them, he’s no threat. He won’t leave the driveway when they walk down the road. If the other two dogs are barking they veer into the woods to go around our house, coming back to the road past the edge of our lawn. They have the dogs figured out.
They hadn’t been around since the dogs caught more than 20 in the backyard and made them fly like exploding popcorn into the trees, over the pond, across the road and out of sight over the treeline. They started showing up again two weeks ago but rather than a rafter of 20 or more, there were four, all toms. And then there were three, and now two. I don’t know if they separated intentionally, lost each other, have been eaten by bobcats and coyotes, or if something else happened to them.
It’s hard to hate two bachelor turkeys. They don’t cause any harm other than I have to shoo them away from the bird feeder. One knock on the window is enough to scare them into a mad dash to the road. I have to listen for cars that might be coming to avoid causing an accident. They walk through the back yard to get to bare ground under trees at the edge of the woods. My turkeys paid them little attention late last week when they stroll past the pen. It’s not mating season yet so the rituals haven’t started…but it won’t be long. My tom gobbled yesterday morning, and in the distance, a tom gobbled back.
They aren’t causing harm but I scare them away so they don’t get comfortable here before the gardening season starts. I have young peach, plum and apricot trees I can’t allow them to use for roosting. I don’t want them eating and pooping in my strawberries. I don’t dislike the two toms but I don’t want them here.
At the end of last year’s dismal hunting season I said I wasn’t turkey hunting this year. They disappeared two weeks before the season opened because of the early spring. I saw more bears during turkey season last year than turkeys. I saw more turkeys than bears during bear season. I meant it. I wasn’t going to hunt this year. Then I heard that gobble yesterday. I love fresh wild turkey. It tastes a lot like the heritage turkeys we raise on grass. I even like the cold late April and early May mornings when I sit shivering a little bit on a cold ground, waiting for legal time, listening for birds coming down from their roost. The long distance gobble that gets closer and the drumming noise the toms make, giving away their location over a knoll is exciting.
I hate the turkeys when they’re pests but really, I kind of love them too.