Friday, April 14, 2006

Madison's urban and only somewhat wild turkeys


I photographed this wild turkey hen last fall when we surprised each other on a path in Owen Conservancy Park, the 93-acre nature preserve on the west side of Madison. While that was downright startling, my encounter yesterday evening with another member of this increasingly urban species was just surreal (unfortunately, it was too dark to get a photo).

I was driving west on the 1300 block of Drake Street. It was about 8:00 p.m., the sun had just set, and again, it was a hen turkey. She walked across the street, head held high, without even glancing at the traffic -- walking with a wobbly but oddly regal bearing. Suddenly there was this huge bird in front of me, seemingly as tall as my car, intent on a mission of some sort. She was heading north, away from Vilas Park.

The strange thing was that once she reached the other side, she didn't wander onto the terrace or a lawn. No, she just turned and started running west on the sidewalk -- fast, like someone trying to flag down a bus. It didn't look as if anything could slow down her determined run, but then a car pulled out of a driveway and blocked her path. As the driver got out to gape at this huge apparition racing toward her, the hen veered off into another driveway. That's where I last saw her, biding her time and reviewing her options behind a scraggly bush that didn't really hide her the way she thought it did.

For nearly a century, wild turkeys were extinct in Wisconsin, due to market hunting and cutting of the forests. In 1976, the DNR brought in live-trapped wild birds from Missouri. The DNR traded three ruffed grouse for every turkey. Thirty years later, we have about 300,000, all over the state. Last year hunters killed more than 46,000. The turkey season started April 12.

Maybe that's why she was running.

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