Pals and Staten Islanders Marion and Joe mentioned a growing population of the big birds near Staten Island University Hospital, and of course, a full investigation was in order!
Driving down Father Capodanno Boulevard, I wondered if they were really so prevalent or if had I just set myself up for a wild goose, er, turkey chase. I needn't have worried. Just yards from the turn off the Boulevard toward the hospital, I nearly ran into a female leisurely crossing Seaview Avenue. Another 30 or so watched her from behind a large chain link fence.
Incredible! Sadly, I wasn't able to photograph this group as they were on the grounds of the psychiatric hospital. Disappointing, but perhaps it would be smart not cause trouble at this particular location.
My nose-to-beak meeting was minutes later on the quiet side streets where a loose group of 20 or so foraged in front yards and between parked cars. I have seen turkeys only twice in my life -- once driving through Nebraska on I-80 without the opportunity to stop, and another time at the Bronx Zoo when I spotted a female in the shrub understory by the Reptile House. These brief encounters made me long for a closer view. And here, on Staten Island of all places, was my chance.
Besides their girth, a turkey's color is mesmerizing. At first they appeared brownish with some streaks of white, and of course, the red wattle adorning the bald face. But from my distance -- just a couple feet at times -- the feathers showed stripes and iridescence, while the head was nearly hot pink.
I'm not an expert on turkeys so I'm unable to impart much information, but have heard they are very intelligent. Can't say that I witnessed any evidence in my hour or so following them on the street, but what did strike me was their soft, thoughtful eyes that certainly made them look like a wise uncle. And while the folds of naked skin might not appear handsome at first, when combined with those eyes and regal posture, they become a most majestic bird. I can understand why this was Ben Franklin's choice as our nation's bird.
Car traffic was limited so I witnessed another endearing characteristic -- vocalizations. We're all familiar with the gobble sound but as they peacefully picked through the leaf litter, each offered a soft, almost cooing sound (scroll down on the page and listen to "Purr"). Not at all what I would expect to hear from such a formidable-looking creature.
While my pals generally focused on lunchtime foraging, two males were engaged in a little power struggle. To my untrained turkey eye, a large male with an impressive wattle was making some gentle yet persistent moves toward a smaller male. I assume the smaller one was younger and perhaps intruding on the old boy's territory or flirting too much with his ladies. It was not an all out fight, but the elder was quite convincing that he was the boss.
Local news stories have reported on the turkeys which mysteriously appeared some years ago, and the mixed opinions of residents. As an outsider, I can't think of a more wonderful animal to join my yard, but perhaps their associated mess would start to wear thin as it has with other folks. On the other hand, the turkeys seem to have enough fans and started their own Twitter feed.
Opinions might abound but one thing is certain: we do have it all in our city, including the opportunity to see -- and truly watch -- a remarkable animal in a way most people never will.
Can hardly wait for spring when I head back to watch males in their breeding displays....