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Little Lost Turkeys

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You all had a little preview of this post in Phoebe's birthday post. Thanks so much for all your wishes and compliments on my little faunlet. But I want to ask:

Why does amazing bird stuff keep happening to me? I have enough to do keeping up with the birds that get into trouble on our 80 acres, not to mention the five calls a day from people all over the state wondering what to do with theirs.

I don't think it's a coinkydink.

I think birds know where to come when they're in trouble, that's what I think.

They wandered into the yard at dawn on June 22. They were peeping, a strident peep-PEEP PEEP? that sounded a lot like a tufted titmouse's spring song, but unvarying, insistent. I couldn't identify nor place the sound, and it bothered me until about ten AM. It circled and circled the yard, coming from nowhere and everywhere at once. I didn't have time to chase it down.

I was busy--about 15 people were here for a field trip, a special visit to Indigo Hill, right on the heels of our trip out West. We'd been home from our two week trip for only a day and a half, and I'd done ten loads of laundry and hung them all out, and Bill had mowed and weedwhacked and the kids had helped with the laundry and raked the hay on the lawn. Thank the Lord I'd cleaned the house before we left, telling it to stay nice while we were gone. And I was showing 15 people around the gardens and bonsai collection and Bill was setting out to try to show them a Kentucky warbler when he called back to me and said, "Here's what's been peeping." And these two little wild turkeys not five days old came stepping out of a trumpetvine tangle, calling and calling, and they wandered, wide eyed, toward us.

Arrrggghhh. You don't want little lost turkeys wandering up to you. Because then they become
your problem.
They couldn't find Mom; they'd been trying all morning and here it was noon and they were tired and hot so they settled for the nearest big slow- moving things they could find. This instinct to follow in young galliniformes is very strong. Although they pick up their own food from hatching day on, their lives depend on staying close to their mothers. Mom knows what to do when danger threatens; Mom's there to shield them from sun, rain and hail; she shows them good things to eat and where to drink, and she takes them up in the trees to roost under her wings at night.

Of course I began to worry about them the moment I laid eyes on them; I was magnetically pulled to help them. We let them wander around the yard for another two hours while we entertained, but all the while I was brooding about what I could do for them. So when the time came for our guests to leave I explained that I wouldn't be accompanying them down Newell's Run as I'd planned. I had turkeys to tend. I needed to find their mama. Being birdwatchers, they understood. We all have our priorities.

I Xeroxed some county road maps and sent them on their way with thanks for their understanding. They left with a real sense for what a rehabilitator's life is like--it can turn on a dime and usually does when you least expect it. When you're wired the way I am, suddenly being presented with a wild thing in need is kind of like getting a flat tire. Driving on isn't an option.

Before the group left, I recruited a few volunteers and when the turkeys headed out into the open lawn we sprinted to cut them off. I nabbed one as it zigzagged wildly, then huddled by my shoe (awww!) and the other darted into the rose hedge (rats!) where it took a few more minutes and some thorny abuse to my arms before my fingers finally closed around its downy little body.

I put them in a pet carrier with a dish of water and some chick starter, which they ignored. Oh, crap. Now what? They were peeping and peeping...So we waved everybody good bye and I donned my field clothes and set out for a two-hour walk around our property with the pet carrier under my arm, two shrilling baby turkeys inside it. I figured if I couldn't find their mom, she might find us by the loud location calls. I took my very best turkey hunting dog, Chet Baker, and told him that if he found a turkeh he was not to chase it but to wait quietly by me. He said he would. He walked just in front of me, quiet as a mouse, watching and sniffing, staying close and alert. Good boy, Chet.

A good dog is a joy, a gift, a blessing.

But after two hours all Chet and I had found was two cast turkey feathers, shining bronze in the green. The forest was silent. I was soaked with sweat and branded right through my long pants with stinging nettle welts. Note to self: Columbia "Titanium" zip-off pants are useless in the forest. You might as well be in hotpants. You might as well not wear any pants. Just waltz out there naked. They're too thin to stop stinging nettles. They might stop a halt, feeble or newborn mosquito. But maybe not.

I came back exhausted and thoroughly overheated, with two very hungry and tired little turkeys that were all my problem. Now I had to figure out what to feed them; what to DO with them. To be continued...


What absolute angels, and how good you are to care for them! If only all turkeys had such luck as to stumble over to the Zickefoose house! I adopted some rescued farm turkeys over at Farm Sanctuary and they are just like dogs--they follow you around to see what you'll do, and they LOVE attention. A good pet under their wings is their absolute favorite.

Obviously I hope these little guys, being wild, can be rehabilitated or returned to their mother! You are awesome for stopping what you were doing to help them out. (Great pics, too.) Keep us updated--I loved the Libby Lou saga!

Great story! Reminds me of the domestic duckling I briefly watched over after finding it abandoned in a salt marsh I was surveying. Sweetest and most affectionate animal I have ever had (sorry, Sam), but also the messiest and the neediest. Fortunately for both of us, I found a rehabber with a farm on Day 4 and the duckling went on to a wonderful life with her.

Hey there, hi there! Happy (late) birthday to Phoebe. Gorgeous shots of her and what a gift of a birthday card you wrote her. Sniff, sniff.

My husband had to return a lost poult to his Momma one morning when he was out scouting...I was so jealous he got to hold one of the little cuties! I also would've paid good money to see a 6'2" man in full cammo running on tiptoe across a field edge with a baby turkey in his hands trying to catch the lost little guy up with his flock ahead.

Funny thing - I took Fender (our new dog who is the newest love of my life:) for a walk this morning on the trails behind our yard and we actually spooked a turkey. A big one with no babies who suddenly airlifted himself over the stone wall and flapped loudly into a tree. Fender stopped, stared and puffed up his chest, let out a little whine as he looked back at me pleadinlgy... and then we went in the other direction. Fender walks on a leash (and sometimes with a harness) because besides sniffing out a trail made by another animal, he would like nothing better than to chase it...maybe play with whatever he finds at the end of his nose, maybe eat it, who knows. Guess today is a turkey kind of a day. (Do they have Chico's in Ohio?:)

Anyway...looking forward to this next story. Baby turkeys (we call them turklets, and gooselets, etc.) are just so darn cute.

Brooding, yes that's what we moms do whether it is turkey babies, human babies or all grown up humans still our babies. Can't wait to hear what happens next.

I am anxiously awaiting more post about the turkeys!

You must have the "kind-hearted" woman sign written on a stone in bird esperanto somewhere on the edge of your property. It's the only explanation.

Last year, a hen turkey came into the yard trailed by ten little ones about the age of yours. She scratched around the feeder for a while and then ran off across the yard and through the field. The kids were left behind.

The ten wandered the yard for about an hour. Finally, more turkeys showed up. Six of the ten joined a hen that already had seven of her own. Three went off with a lone hen. I watched the last little guy walking down the trail in the company of four toms. It reminded me of when I was a little guy hanging around with my grandfather's friends.

I never figured out why she left. The other birds at the feeder didn't seem disturbed by anything.

I'm on the edge of my seat, and I love it! I am sure it is exhausting to be Mama to every dear thing that comes into your life. Good for you though for having such a heart!


Posted by Anonymous July 15, 2010 at 6:40 PM

Steve, your hen turkey might have been the inspiration for Lolla Lee Lou, the bird who left her egg with Horton the elephant to hatch. That gets a big maladaptive DUH from me!
Bruce, I'm with you on ducks. Very sweet, but the poop factor is a real turnoff. Input, output x 10.
Island Rider, thanks for catching the "brooding" jokelet.
Becci, I did my best, as you'll see. Imperfect solution, but not so bad in the end.
Jen, pictures of Fender, backstory, STAT! Where you been, girl?

I've just found your blog and I like it a lot!!
I love nature!!
I just wanted to wish you a nice day!!
Greetings from Italy!!

Posted by Anonymous July 16, 2010 at 3:31 AM

I can empathize on the pants/nettles issue! I found myself in the middle of a thick, tall patch--and, as you say, would have been equally protected with nothing on at all!
I feel as if the mid-summer woods can be pretty inhospitable--unless you're a red-admiral caterpillar?
(and I think birds know where to go when they're in trouble, too!)

Oh, these guys are just too dang cute!! I would have done as you did.... you just can't leave them peeping so heart-breakingly.

Kritter Karma ! It is clearly your gift used with skill and love.
These babies sound like a wonderful summer project for two young naturalists-in-training and one remarkable dog !
I'm looking forward to the rest of the story.

maybe you need a turkey handpuppet (like the rehabbers use with the sandhill crane babies to teach them to eat)! what little cuties.

Be glad you don't have to teach them to swim! Seriously, you are the Mother Teresa of wildlife.

Posted by Anonymous July 17, 2010 at 10:42 AM
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