Holiday Homecoming: the birds coming home to roost

 

By Chryseia Brennan

 

A strange sound interrupts my work in the garage. What begins as faint, far-away background noise grows louder and more insistent. It comes closer. An eerie din of squeaky door, rusty chirp, yelp, yip and cackle move up the ridge behind the house. And then I hear him: the distinctive gobble rising above the chaos. Turkeys!

I scramble the short distance to the top of the ridge and look down. Sunlight spatters across the brown and gold leaves, a paintbrush dabbing the landscape in light. The birds were so well camouflaged it took me a while to understand what I was seeing. A living, changing carpet of bronze and brown moved across the forest floor; at least 25 in the flock, calling “kee-kee” and excitedly talking turkey.

I could not make out individual birds in movement; they blended so well and ran so fast. But when the occasional hen or tom stopped to take stock, their iridescent feathers shone copper and bronze, blue-green, cream and rich brown. The striking poses and outstretched necks of the yearling birds, long-legged and not quite at their full weight, were regal.

Early settlers enjoyed turkeys, sometimes taking 30 a day; but the bounty at that rate would not last. The birds dropped in number as the forests fell. Rare in the early 1800’s; record has it that the last Massachusetts native turkey was killed, ironically, on Mount Tom, in 1851.

Eventually, in the 1950’s, wildlife managers tried reintroducing turkeys to Massachusetts, first using farm-raised birds that failed. Trying again in the 1970’s, biologists trapped 37 wild turkeys in New York and relocated them to the Berkshires. The flock thrived in the Berkshires, and turkey transplants soon ranged throughout the state. Today the turkey is our state game bird and the estimated population exceeds 25,000.

I became unwitting shepherdess to a flock of wild turkeys during my college days in Tampa, FL; pranked by a “friend” who left four wild turkey poults (he pronounced it “pullits”) in my enclosed screen porch. Frantically late as usual, and 12 oz. of coffee short of thinking straight, I cornered them in a box and carried them one by one to an old dog run that was on the property; secure enough that I did not think they could get out. I threw a pan of water and a few slices of bread in after them and rushed to class.

In between class and work I stopped back at the house to check on things. My roommate and landlady, arms folded across their chests and not smiling, stood a few feet from the dog run. They both started speaking the minute I was out of the car. I looked at the little “pullits,” and they looked at me. The bread was gone, water pan overturned; all was not well in Mudville.

After UN-level negotiations, the birds stayed. The two hens and two toms produced dozens of turkeys over my three-year tenure, roaming our end of Peppertree Lane by day and securely fenced in the dog run by night. The original tom (Otie, short for original or old tom) and one of the mama hens remained the duration. Otie grew to a 40-pound aggressive gobbler, not usually happy news to a delivery or repair person.

One spring morning, scantily clad and needing clothes from the dryer, I ran through the kitchen and yanked open the laundry room door, which also had an exterior door on the other side. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or the meter reader crouched behind the exterior door in fear of Otie, who had hens on the nest and was quite displeased with the “invader.”

I remember being impressed a few weeks later, after the clutch had hatched, when a small plane flew overhead. Mama bird must have thought “hawk” and quickly called her babies to the safety of her wings beneath the low orange tree.

I learned to love them, and am thrilled to see them in Sturbridge. My husband and I spotted three wild turkeys along Newton’s main street when we attended a conference there. In many towns, turkeys are becoming city dwellers. Perhaps one day we’ll see them strutting along our green; no fear of muskets or early settlers. But remember, as well as they will fit into our Sturbridge way of life, they can become aggressive, especially during mating and nesting season, and are best treated as any wild animal: admired from afar.

The Sturbridge Times

 

The Sturbridge Times Magazine has been publishing 11 issues a year, with no January issue, since July, 2007. Our parent company, Strategen Advertising, Inc., is a healthcare marketing firm specializing in medical practice development and marketing medical equipment. Our publication is unique in that it offers agency-quality advertising creative services to our local advertisers.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts

 

Sturbridge, first settled in 1729, by settlers from Medfield, was officially incorporated in 1738. The town is situated with Route 20 ribboning through, and Interstate 90 (Mass Turnpike) and Interstate 84 (heading to Connecticut and beyond) meeting in town. In the 2000 census Sturbridge counted 7,837 residents in 3,066 households (34.2% of which had children under 18), with an average density of 89.1 per square mile. The median income for Sturbridge families was $64,455.

 

Places of Interest:

Sturbridge, located on Rt. 20, is a “living museum” that re-creates life in rural New England from 1790s to the 1830s

Old Sturbridge Village, located on Rt. 20, is a “living museum” that re-creates life in rural New England from 1790s to the 1830s.

Tantiusques is an open-space reservation and historic site here in town.

Wells State Park is a 1,400-acre (570 ha) woodland park and campground located on Rt. 49. The park includes 10 miles (16 km) of trails and Walker Pond, which offers a setting for fishing, canoeing, and swimming.

 

Sturbridge has become a dining destination for people who travel from Worcester and Hartford, with many popular dining establishments such as the famous Publick House, Cedar Street Grille and Avellino.