Urban Turkeys

Hi all, we have finally made our way to Dauphin Island for the migration. A bit of a letdown for our first couple of days, but things are likely to improve with the current storm. Not to wish additional hardships on our Gulf crossers, however, the high winds and rain will likely result in fallout conditions as soon as the weather improves. Going to let Brad take the Intrigued controls back over while I go in search for an umbrella.

Take it away Brad…

Legend has it, if Ben Franklin would have had his way, the turkey would be the national symbol of the United States.  We all know the turkey “lost out” to the bald eagle, but you have to admit we ended up with a much better symbol.  However, the turkey has since taken over, at least in population numbers.

In 2022, Jan and I ended up seeing turkeys in five states.  That’s correct, five different states.  Some of the states may very well be obvious, but I bet at least one will surprise you.  It sure surprised me.  I’ll walk through our year of turkeys from East to West.

But first, a little turkey history and lore.  What is a group of turkeys called?  Hands up for “gaggle”?  The word gaggle is thought to be based on an old English word “gagelen” meaning to cackle.  Maybe a “gang,” but only if in neglected urban areas.  What about just a plain old flock?  The word “flock” is good generic term for any grouping of birds.  How about a “rafter”?  Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding.  We have a winner.  A group of turkeys is properly referred to as a rafter of turkeys.  I guess this is like a “murder” of crows, which doesn’t make sense to me either.  Some think the term “rafter of turkeys” comes from the fact that they like to sleep in tree branches or other high-up places.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Turkeys like to sleep off the ground, usually in trees.  Or where the rafters of a house or barns would be.

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

Hit the jump to read more about Brad’s year of Turkeys!

This isn’t a very good photo.  In fact, it’s pretty bad.  I took it at the extreme end of the zoom on my mobile phone through a window screen very early in the morning.  My DSLR was upstairs and the turkeys were moving through our yard very quickly.  By the time I saw them, I didn’t have time to get the camera.  They were also moving quickly so I settled for a crummy photo.  (as Brian says, “if there’s no photo, you didn’t see it” or something like that)  In days of old, people would find them early in the morning roosting in the rafters of a barn or house that was under construction.  Don’t blame me, I’m just reporting what I find.

A young male turkey is called a “jake”.  Once they are two years or older you can refer to them as a gobbler (started all the way back in the early 1700’s) or more commonly a “tom”.   Young female turkeys are called “jennys”.  Older females are called hens.

The first state in our East to West tour is Massachusetts.  No, we weren’t in western Mass where the forests of the Berkshire Mountains are.  We were in urban Brookline (the first suburb adjacent to and directly west of Boston).  Jan and I were walking a couple of blocks south of Beacon Street (one of the busiest east-west thoroughfares in the Boston area). She spotted this one in a neighborhood right next to a stop sign.

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

A male was a few blocks away on a prior visit; trying to impress a female.

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

We were a block or so from the hospital district in Brookline.  Behind us was a very busy intersection with dozens of pedestrians moving between two connecting hospitals and a subway train line.  The turkeys didn’t seem to care at all.

Our second state on the East to West tour is Ohio.  We were driving through the backwoods where you would expect wildlife, on our way to The Wilds, a partner/extension of the Columbus Zoo.  We were on our way for a Wild Side Tour when the GPS app took us on some suspect roads.  While slowing down for oncoming tractors on a one-lane road this rafter of turkeys ran across in front of us.  They trotted along the edge of the road for a few seconds and disappeared into the woods. 

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

Jan was able to catch them with her iPhone just before they disappeared.

Continuing west, of course, we have turkeys in our backyard in central Illinois, the third state.  Our property shares a wooded ravine that is probably 100 yards across where our house is.  The ravine runs for a mile or more down to the river and gets wider as it goes.  The best time (but worst for photos) was when an entire rafter, poults included, was in our backyard with deer wandering through.

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

And a few impatient teenagers trying to get away from the rest into the neighbor’s yard.  They probably thought the adults wouldn’t notice.

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

Every now and then if we go outside early morning, we can hear the turkeys talking from the trees.  It seems the local owls like to torment them.  When the sun is just up, a barred owl will make its signature  “Who cooks for you?” call.  Then all heck breaks loose with the turkeys gobbling to each other.  I can’t help but imagine a gathering of immature middle school owls laughing.  Then the class clown owl will probably say, “here hold my mouse and watch this” and starts up the turkeys all over again.

A friend of mine lives on a river in the suburbs of Chicago.  Dave has turkeys all over his yard.  He frequently scatters cracked corn outside of his sun room in hopes of attracting them, which of course, works.  Dave has done this for so long that offspring of the original generation of turkeys know to come here for a snack every now and then. 

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

This turkey gets rather insistent and pecks on the window if there’s no cracked corn snacks ready for them.  I’ve been there; it’s loud and a bit startling if you don’t know it’s going to happen.

Heading a bit further west, and up in elevation, the fourth state is Colorado.  Jan and I were driving around exploring the area.  We left the interstate a few minutes before and were driving on a very busy street somewhere between Castle Rock and Littleton, facing the Front Range.  Frankly, I think I was lost.  But the mountains were directly in front of us and how can you go wrong looking at mountains?!  A red light stopped us in traffic near a community college. 

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

This rafter was making short work of some landscaping.  They seemed to be oblivious to the traffic and noise just a few feet away from them. 

OK, are you ready for this?  The fifth state on our East to West tour where we saw wild turkeys is . . . drum roll please . . . Hawaii!  Yes, you read that correctly.  We experienced turkeys on the Big Island of Hawaii.  We saw them at two different parts of the island, on two separate occasions, both times at similar altitudes, between 1000-2000 feet of elevation.  As with most non-indigenous birds on the Big Island, turkeys were brought in as a game bird.  There are an estimated 18,000 turkeys on the Hawaiian Islands.  Turkeys were first brought to the islands in the early 1800s from Chile.  Some of the birds living there today are descendants of the original stock.   Four hundred turkeys from Texas were released at the Pu’uwa’awa’a (poo oo-wah ah-wah ah) Ranch in the 1960s.  Having no predators, except for the occasional mongoose eating their eggs, they have thrived on the island. 

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

This rafter was near Waikola Village, across from a small shopping center on a rather busy street.

For fun, they can be seen racing tourists in rental cars.  I think this one was preparing for a 50-mile endurance race.  It was moving at a brisk pace, almost, but not quite, keeping up with the 25MPH traffic flowing by.  Nice stride, for a turkey.

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

This next pair were a bit further up in elevation near the Kalopa State Recreation Area.  They were strutting down the middle of the road. 

Urban Turkeys by Brad Marks

The one on the left came right up to our window and wanted to see inside.  He (or truthfully it could have been a she) was tall enough to look directly in the window of our mid-sized SUV rental.  Its head was right about where the side view mirror was.  They were quietly cackling/gobbling to each other for a couple of minutes while we watched and listened with the windows down.  Smartphone Translate caught a bit of the conversation.  It went something like this:

“Food please.”

“They aren’t going to feed you.”

“They are tourists, aren’t they?”

“Tom, you just had lunch.”

“So what?!”

“You don’t want to be too stuffed for dinner, do you?  Here, have a mint.  It’s wafer thin.” 

“Better bring me a bucket!”

They quickly lost interest in us (no food).  We slowly pulled ahead once we thought they were safely off to the side of the road.  Apparently, they weren’t quite done with us.  One of them decided to give chase and kept pace with our rental car up to about 20 MPH before it got bored and returned to its friend. The two-some then harassed the car behind us.

Can turkeys fly?  Yes, but they prefer not to.  They are able to make short flights at up to 55 MPH, but they really prefer to walk, like the Hawaiian goose, or nene featured here.  Not sure who crossed the road first:  the chicken or the turkey.   I do know the turkey is much faster.  Have you seen the size of those drumsticks?!

Thank you for reading.

If you want to see more of our turkey photos, please visit here.


Thanks again to Jan and Allyson for proofreading and editing.  Thanks to Jan for nearly all of the photos in this article.  Thanks to my friend Dave for the photos from his backyard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s