Once they were fed I figured they might stop peeping. But they were cold in the air-conditioned house and they wanted their mama and the peeping continued, louder and more plaintive even than before. It was driving me to distraction. On an impulse I knelt down and gathered them up and held them under my neck, against my heart. This is something almost all women seem to do with young things. Women just know what to do with baby creatures; they scoop them up and snuggle them up under their chins, against the heart. And the poults' eyes closed and the peeping turned to a purr and their dear little heads drooped and they fell fast asleep.
So I called to the kids. "Get a good movie, sit down on the couch. You have a job to do." And I gave Phoebe one turkey and Liam the other and while the babies slept in their warm hands, I settled in to think about what I was going to do.
Truly, the only time they were quiet was when they were being cuddled. They obviously enjoyed it. When the kids would open their hands, the poults wouldn't jump out; they'd cuddle down closer. They felt safe next to a beating heart, no matter whose.
I fished out a 20 gallon long tank with a screened cover, found my reptile heat lamp and some aspen shavings and set them up in the living room. Young turkeys need to be warm--90 degrees or better--and they calmed down when they felt the soothing heat of the lamp. They calmed down a little. But they were still darned loud, trying to keep in touch with their mama, wherever she'd gone. Peep, PEEP PEEP? Peep, PEEP PEEP?
Repeat ad nauseum, until you want to leap out of your skin. I have an overactive maternal instinct, and I have to say it drove me NUTS to be unable to soothe them. It took me right back to Phoebe's colicky days, and Liam's ear infection years.
That's it, little turkeys. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.
Even though they dozed beneath the lamp, the only thing that truly soothed them was being cuddled, so the kids were happily busy and quietly hoping they could name them and keep them.
I made it clear that these turkeys were only on loan. No turkeys, thank you very much. I'd read enough to know that raising wild turkeys is a full-time job if they imprint on you as their mama. And I have a couple of those (full-time jobs).
A quiet moment, preening emerging wing feathers. Turkeys this young can fly a little! It's amazing.
I hit the Web, finding the Southeast Ohio Poultry Breeder's Association. And there I found a contact phone number for their annual poultry shows, and the kind woman I reached there found me a breeder of heirloom bronze turkeys--not the big, super-dumb white butterballs that are about the only commercial turkey raised, but turkeys that look and act more like turkeys ought to. Of course, they're rare as hen's teeth, but some people still raise them. And he lived not far from my house! So I called his cell phone and left a message for him and listened to the poults' peeping for four more hours until I wanted to pull my hair out (they'd woken up and eaten a few more times and but they were still sad and lonely for their mom). Finally I called him again and got him. And he said he'd take them.
Hallelujah hallelujah. I was limp with relief. They wouldn't grow up wild, but they'd be safe, and they'd have a turkey mama who looked right, sounded right and felt right and did all the right things, and they'd have foster brothers and sisters. He said he'd try to release them when they were old enough to fend for themselves. "Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," he said, obviously having been in this predicament before. But maybe they'd have a chance to reconnect with wild turkeys. It beat being coon food, which is where they were headed when I picked them up. And that was the best I could do for them. When I fed them one last time and dropped them off on his doorstep at 8 pm, heaving a huge sigh of relief and reveling in the quiet, I reflected that it was a day well and oddly spent. As are many of my days. Caring this much about birds gets you into some weird fixes. But you learn, you live, you learn, with the wild things leading you all the way.