I understand a little bit about wild turkeys. They're on a constant hunt for food, drifting through the neighborhood scrounging what they can. But I don't know how it happens that a few will either be left behind by the flock or leave it. This past fall, I'd walk around the garage and before I even saw them, I'd hear their shrieks and the loud scuttle of their wings. They've remained in my neighborhood all winter, two toms and a hen.
At this point in early March, I view them as neighbors and look for what they're up to. They pick through the sunflower seeds that fall from the birdfeeders, and hunt throughout the yards for anything edible. A couple of times I've accidentally dropped a small chunk of suet and when I looked a short time later, it was gone, presumably snatched by a wild turkey
I try to figure out how close they are to each other. Wild turkeys take turns standing guard, remaining absolutely still for a few minutes before they move again, and that continues with the three. They'll fuss a bit with each other when one has found a good hunting spot. They fend for themselves, but seem to gain a sense of safety from being with the others. If I catch sight of one, I can be quite sure the other two are straggling somewhere not too far away.
About an hour before sunset, the three wander back into the trees, only to have one and sometimes all three change their minds and run back to that spot under the birdfeeders, hopeful that this time there'll be more seeds. I keep hoping to see them lift into the trees to roost for the night, but for as large birds as they are, they'll stroll back into the trees, and then just disappear.
It's the same in the morning. I hope to see them fly down and in for breakfast, and twice this winter, I've seen one arrive. They can fly but they don't fly with a lot of grace, and when they land, they often trip, catch their footing, and then run.
The hens are often running. The toms mostly walk, seeming to need to carry themselves with dignity even when they aren't in full feather and pomp. My three, though, run expectantly toward their spot under the feeders only to walk away, heads down, hunting for some morsel in the grass or now on top of the solid layer of snow. I'll step out onto the snow-crusted deck to see them run for their lives, yelping and dodging trees, their bulky bodies swaying from side to side on their thin stick legs. They always return. I don't know about the toms because I've never been close to them — they can be aggressive — but the hens talk all the time, curring and whirring and murmuring.
Some winters back during a particularly snowy winter, I'd pushed so much snow off the raised deck that it was mountained almost as high as the deck. One day the small head and long neck of a wild turkey bobbed up and down while he was eating the sunflower seeds that had scattered from the birdfeeders. I named him Bobble. Somehow, he must have been abandoned by the flock or dawdled too far behind to catch up. It must be nearly impossible for a wild turkey to guess which direction the flock has drifted off to on their rounds and then try to catch up. The flock happened by again a few weeks later and he didn't leave with them. Instead, a second turkey stayed behind, one with such thick eyebrow ridges that I named her Wattle. They stayed for the rest of winter.
Their flock returned during spring thaw, and I wondered if those two would rejoin them. And there the two were, straggling behind the rest of the wild turkeys, Bobble holding back, reluctant to continue while Wattle kept returning to him, cajoling and encouraging him to come, and he taking timid steps to follow, till finally like an old couple, they slowly made their way along the pathway through the trees. That was the last time I saw them.
One day soon, my three's flock will wander this way, the turkey toms fluffing up into puff and splendor and strutting among the hens. I halfway hope mine don't rejoin the others because they've come to feel like close neighbors.
BIO: Brigitte Whiting lives in Maine. She has completed both the Nonfiction and 3-Year Fiction MFAs at Writers' Village University. Her work has appeared in Village Square and Literary Yard online journals, and in Wit, Wisdom and Whimsy, a collection of poems by her local poetry group, Monday Morning Poets.