I was driving to town recently and about a mile east of our farm I saw a wild turkey — the bird kind, not the bottled kind — at the edge of the gravel road. This caused me to realize that it’s turkey time, that season in our great nation when we gobble gobblers until our collective belts become so tight that we collectively give up and put on our stretchy sweatpants.
Some years ago, when I visited a hamlet in central Nebraska I noticed that gangs of wild turkeys were openly roaming the streets. The birds acted as if they owned the place. When I mentioned this to a local, his response was, “Those turkeys are a nuisance. They poop on everything and terrorize the populace. I wish we could get rid of them!”
I found this puzzling. How could the featured entree of a highly anticipated meal be a nuisance and a terror? What if this occurred in other food groups?
“And then, right after we’d finished singing ‘Happy Birthday,’ the cake leaped off the platter and began to chase everyone around the table! I’ve never seen such an evil glow in birthday candles! Thank goodness Floyd heard us shrieking. He ran into the dining room, grabbed the long-handled spatula and hacked the cake to pieces. When it was over, the cake still tasted pretty good. But I’ll need to hire a professional cleaner to get those frosting spatters off the ceiling.”
I have raised a few turkeys and thus know exactly why they are regarded as the punks of the poultry world.
Baby turkeys start out as cute little balls of fluff. This cute phase lasts for approximately one day. The poults quickly transform into gangly, long-necked, semi-fuzzed, semi-feathered conglomerations that look as though they were glued together by an easily distracted 3-year-old child.
As the turkeys grow and their feathers come in, gender differences become increasingly apparent. The toms sprout plumage that’s a show-offish iridescent bronze while the hens have feathers that seem to say, “Thanks, but I’d rather just hang around quietly in the background.”
The real fun begins when the toms hit puberty. They begin to practice their trademark “gobble” call, which, like the voices of human males at this stage of life, tend to randomly vary by several octaves.
But it isn’t long before the toms find their voices and take to gobbling at anything and everything. They will gobble when a car drives by or when a dog barks in the distance. They will gobble at a plane that’s passing overhead or at a guy who is passing gas. And If you have more than one tom, they will gobble in unison.
I’m going to come right out and say this: tom turkeys are dumb. There’s a reason there aren’t any turkeys that have been trained to do such things as pass secret messages that they peck out in Morse Code or even answer the question, “What’s the fastest way to eat Jell-O?” (Gobble, gobble!)
Tom turkeys are so stupid that they will attack their own reflection in a car door. After leaving several scratches and peck marks on the door’s glossy surface, the tom will slowly strut away with a bearing that seems to say, “Well, I showed THAT birdbrain who’s the boss around here!”
The trouble is that gobblers view almost anything as a challenge to their authority. Dogs, cats and even lawn furniture felt the sting of our toms’ spurs.
I couldn’t walk across our farmstead without being accosted by one of the toms. The annoying avian would strut back and forth in front of me, his tail feathers fanned, his noggin tucked close to his body. Gobblers can instantly change the skin color of their dinosaur-like heads from bright scarlet to cobalt blue. It’s creepy.
The turkey would attack in a flurry of slashing talons and beating wings. I would respond with powerful kicks until my tormentor retreated. No matter what the outcome, he would leave the battlefield seeming to believe that he had won.
We kept the turkeys for a couple of years, which was a mistake on two levels. First was that we had to put up with their crap for much too long. Second was that when we finally invited them in for dinner, they had become as tough as an old boot. It’s for good reason that supermarkets advertise “young tom turkey,” and not “tom turkey that was collecting Social Security.”
Eating those birds was like chewing on a wad of rawhide. But I was able to gobble those gobblers with a little help from some Wild Turkey.