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Gobble Gobble

Isn't she lovely? As I was doing household chores the other day, I walked by the picture window and glimpsed what I thought was a large pheasant strolling just out of view. I quickly backtracked after my brain registered the white feathers on her back and realized that what I was looking at was a wild Merriam's Turkey, Melleagris gallopavo, casually walking around the back yard, pretending to be a bird that frequents my feeders.

I love wild birds, with turkeys and owls topping the list of favorites. An owl fix arrives every few months and I hear the soft hoo-hoo as I sit quietly in the kitchen, before the rest of the family awakens, listening to the Great Horned Owl sing his song. The turkey sightings, though, they are much more elusive. I have been known to pull over on the side of the road as I drive through typical turkey country, taking a break from a sometimes hectic life and watching flocks of them as they scavenge through fields in the fall looking for traces of grain thrown over by the combine.

I have never had a wild turkey in my backyard, though, and no one who has lived here their entire life ever remembers one being here, in our little valley that meanders through several miles of prairie land.

Wild turkeys are not native to Montana. They were introduced in the mid 1950s as part of a nation-wide project to restore an almost extinct species to the American landscape. The distribution maps show that they should not be here, but there she was (and still is as of tonight), making a home for herself in our farmyard, feasting on spilled grain and wandering majestically in close proximity to us. I know that her stay is likely temporary and I do not know the circumstances under which she arrived: it is likely that the story is not entirely joyful.

As the sun set rapidly on Saturday evening, I walked outside to quietly video her wanderings. She made the softest purr-ing sound as she pecked and explored - I had no idea of the variety of sounds that the turkey could produce. Benjamin Franklin advocated strongly for the character of the wild turkey, noting that it is “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.”

I couldn't agree more.

What is it about these animals that I find myself so in love with? They do not soar gracefully like an eagle high above nor do they race the wind like a powerful horse. They look somewhat ridiculous when roosting in a tree and their featherless heads are hardly attractive. What they do have going for them is their aura of majesty and power and purpose as they walk. They are elusive yet sure of themselves and my heart skips a beat at the joy of unexpected sightings. Gobble gobble gobble!


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