Feb 27 2011

Spinster Aunt Hiatus Diaries: I’m surrounded by invisible turkeys


It’s 7:30 in the morning. I just got back from tracking a flock of wild turkeys through dense underbrush and am now plucking cactus needles out of my ankles.

I am an award-nominated spinster aunt, but my nomination was not, alas, in the field of wild turkey tracking. These turkeys were definitely in close proximity, but I never did, technically, espy one. Many people think of turkeys as stupid, goofy birds, but they are actually — for 20-pounders with brains the size of garbanzo beans — extremely accomplished in the art of not being seen.

They’re also extremely eloquent. I wish you could hear the eerie and sort of magical (but not really magical; as you know, I promote the scientific Weltanschauung) echo of their chill, burbling murmurs as it reverberates through the valley. This chill, burbling murmur is known in turkey circles as a “gobble.” It’s loud as fuck. The turkey flock wafts invisibly through the woods and the gobbling swells and seems to surge from everywhere at once and then suddenly – zippo. Like they just got beamed up.

The musical and poetical impact of this heartwarming avian nature crap experience rivals that of the celebrated lone-loon-on-a-misty-Minnesota-lake.


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  1. Comrade PhysioProf


  2. Yardshark

    Turkles are fun ain’t they?

    One day eons ago when I was in grad school in New Jersey, outside the rented bungalow I thought I heard…something. I was like…”‘zat a frickin’ *turkey?*”

    Looked out the window and sure enough…there were 4 black and white wild turkeys hanging out on the driveway. Them suckers was BIG.

    (And this was before digital cameras were common, and phones didn’t have ’em either. Shit.)

  3. humanbein

    Breathtaking photo, Jill!

  4. Notorious Ph.D.

    That is some truly heartwarming nature crap. Thank you. We don’t get much in the way of turkeys here in Grit City – just possums and raccoons the size of cocker spaniels. And feral cats.

  5. MaryK

    One morning, I was walking to my treestand during deer season. It was just starting to get light outside, and it was still dim in the woods. I had the everlovin’ crap scared out of me by a flock of turkeys that had roosted in a tree nearby. There they were–large, hulking shapes peering like some foul gargoyle from the bare branches of winter.

  6. Bushfire


  7. Paula

    Lovely picture. There used to be a rather large turkey who hung around Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA. His name was Mr. Gobbles. He eventually retired to the suburbs after being hit by a car.

  8. Aunti Disestablishmentarian

    These are words to live by. We are all, indeed, surrounded by invisible turkeys.

    The turkeys in these parts are often uninvisible to the point where the more ornery individuals chase pedestrians, letter carriers and indeed cars down the road.

    Flocks seem to have a very limited range of less than one suburban block, to the point where we make bets on whether we will spot them on any given passing. Very often we see them within the same 200 foot area. I spotted them recently in good numbers which is encouraging after such a brutal winter, which is not yet over, apparently.

  9. Mortisha

    “There they were–large, hulking shapes peering like some foul gargoyle from the bare branches of winter.”

    “uninvisible to the point where the more ornery individuals chase pedestrians, letter carriers and indeed cars down the road”.

    Wow, your turkeys sound fabulous. I love wildlife that scares the crap out of people and kicks ass.

    Great photo.

  10. Friend of Snakes

    Aunti said: “The turkeys in these parts are often uninvisible to the point where the more ornery individuals chase pedestrians, letter carriers and indeed cars down the road.”

    Honest to god! Go to YouTube with keywords like turkey plus attack or mailman or car. These guys (and I’m thinking these are toms not hens) seem to take anything largish as a personal challenge to their avian masculinity.

    This might be an appropriate time to share my experiences working in a turkey slaughtering and processing facility. Well, enough about that.

  11. AlienNumber

    This invisible Turkey is a bright invisible blue.

  12. Lurker Lyn

    haha: “fowl gargoyle”

  13. speedbudget

    Turkeys got their bad rap for being dumb from the domesticated kind, which truly have had all the smart bred out of them. I have no idea why, since it seems having your flock kill themselves from dumb stuff like being confused about rain and airplanes going overhead would be a bad thing. Although I imagine if they were as smart as their wild cousins, they would be escaping all over the place.

  14. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Wild turkeys are wicked smart. My brother-in-law bow-hunts them, and hasn’t gotten one yet. But I don’t think he tries that hard.

  15. tinfoil hattie

    The photos! The photos! (whispered a la Brando in “Apocalypse Now”)

    Our esteemed blogspinster DEFINITELY has photographic chops rivaling any NatGeo (as the hipsters day it) photographer. Truly.

  16. Aunti Disestablishmentarian

    Unarticulated internal monologue musing on what crazy haircuts “A Flock of Wild Turkeys” would have.

  17. Melinda

    Twisty, Twisty, Twisty. You’re my favorite spinster aunt from Texas. I hope you are enjoying a hiatus full of heartwarming nature crap.

    Please don’t give up on the blog.

  18. Eileen

    I always think it is the weirdest thing to see turkeys flying up to roost in the trees at dusk. They are like bowling balls with wings.

  19. tinfoil hattie

    I know. I gush. But I keep coming back and looking at this photo … I’m so drawn to it.

    I, I, I, I, I! YOU must know what I think!

  20. MaryK

    Check out this heartwarming picture of a turkey roost, though it be not as heartwarming as our dear host’s foto. http://www.outdoorlife.com/files/imagecache/photo-single-upscale/photo/3/rule_the_roost_main_0.jpg

  21. speedbudget

    A group of turkeys is a rafter or a gang. I think Jill should refer to her gang of turkeys. Makes them sound like badasses.

    My dad goes turkey hunting occasionally. He says somehow they know the exact dimensions of the one farm in the entire acreage where the farmer doesn’t allow hunting and they stay directly inside of the lines at all times. And gobble at the hunters. Wild turkeys are no joke.

    Hey, does anybody want some whiskey?

  22. Aunti Disestablishmentarian

    Only if the whisky is made with real turkeys. False advertising makes me feel like a chump.

  23. ew_nc

    Round these parts we have a lot more turkey buzzards than turkeys. The buzzards have their own beauty.

  24. Jodie

    Turkeys in the mist!

  25. Outback

    Having read your comments policy I am finding it very difficult to write anything in this box without wondering if I’ve breached the guidelines. My whole writing being is shaken and stirred so much that my words are fragmented and worriedly written. Any moment now I’m expecting a whipping that will echo around the neighbourhood much louder than any turkey’s warble.
    Great piece of writing. Is turkey hunting allowable in the US? Can you just catch one and stick it in the oven?

  26. Laurie

    That’s one fine-looking bird. Have you ever seen Errol Morris’s wonderful documentary, “Vernon, Florida”? A turkey hunter figures prominently in it.

    And ew_nc, WORD on the turkey vultures. My favorite bird! We see kettles swirling around here (rural NorCal) all the time.

    Turkey vultures are glorious beasts. Their urine is the most powerful antiseptic substance exuded by an animal. Gotta be, because that’s how they clean themselves of all the rotten muck they trot around in all day.

    Here in California we’ve even got our own turkey vulture festival, though sadly no longer a count: http://kern.audubon.org/tvfest.htm

  27. Friend of Snakes

    Outback, are you Zoe Brain’s younger brother?

    Laurie, I haven’t seen that particular Morris documentary, but really enjoyed his Fast, Cheap and Out of Control because of the naked mole rats. I guess we were supposed to be interested in his human subjects, but I watched for those cool rats with the neat social structure.

  28. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    March 15 is Buzzard Sunday in Hinckley, OH. The buzzards’ springtime return is feted with a pancake breakfast in a church basement that smells of winos. The proceeds benefit some worthy Ohio wildlife cause. The way I describe it doesn’t sound very appealing, but it’s usually a pretty good time.

  29. Jill

    “Can you just catch one and stick it in the oven?”

    No, I cannot.

  30. janicen

    In the middle of taking the survey, it disappeared. Poof!

  31. speedbudget

    Can you just catch one and stick it in the oven?

    It’s kinda hard to shove a live turkey into an oven, or anywhere, actually.

  32. yttik

    We have wild turkeys, but they’re really smart so nobody knows they’re here. They aren’t native, they were introduced and have been “managed” to try and distribute them in the proper areas. I swear these birds have developed a wariness about fish and game officers because when they come to try and count turkeys they can’t ever find any. We locals know there are thousands of them all over the place, but they hide when the officials show up. It’s a good thing because if your area is rumored to have no turkeys, then nobody bothers to go turkey hunting. We have hundreds of subversive turkeys that nobody knows exist.

  33. Friend of Snakes

    In the middle of taking the survey, it disappeared. Poof!

    That’s not an altogether bad thing. The questions were of the maddeningly imprecise variety, subject to multiple interpretations. GIGO. But they were mostly cute questions, don’t you know?

  34. buttercup

    Buttercupia is fortunate enough to be frequented by a large group of wild turkeys. (We call them either a “gobble-it” or a “metric crapload”.) It’s a sure sign of spring when they start coming around, and I get tons of awesome and fearsome photos every year when they nerve up enough to hit the bird feeders. Laying in the hammock last summer, I was witness to an epic display of tom-foolery as they tried to lure the hens with their inflated breasts and impressive tailfeathers. They put on a good show.

  35. Laughingrat

    @Antoinette: the Hinckley thing sounds like a hoot, but despite being in the same state, it’s still 2.5 hours away. Alas.

    hundreds of subversive turkeys

    It’s a feminist plot! If only.

  36. Outback

    I suppose you got to pluck it first.

  37. Lily Underwood

    Posting here cuz I don’t know where else to say this. I tried taking the survey but hadn’t read any of the books. Hence, I was apparently “disqualified” – try as I might, hitting the “submit” button (an uneasy thing for me to do), it just kept returning me to the survey as if saying, “WHAT?!?! You haven’t read ANY of these books? Idiot!” Aw, fuck it. The survey sucks.

  38. Deb in Indiana

    Survey software remains on survey page when I click “Finish Survey.”

    Selected several of the books in the multiple checkbox question. Answered once to all other questions. Using Firefox.

    I blame the survey.

    Gorgeous picture — a little spooky, like turkey gobbles.

  39. Ottawa Gardener

    I’m glad that one turkey wavered in its transition to invisibility long enough to take that beautiful shot. You know what else is freaky? Grouse. They sound like helicoptors taking off within inches of you. A second before, you thought you were alone.

  40. ElizaN

    Cool picture! There’s been an influx of turkeys into south Berkeley, of all places, and they’ve just been hanging out in people’s yards. It’s very exciting, like a little glimpse of Savage Death Island right here at home.

  41. Corvus

    Turkeys are one of my all time favorite animals. This became the case for me when I met some at a farm sanctuary and they were the friendliest animals there. One chose me and followed me around displaying and we danced together. It was an amazing experience. They also have a fancy for attacking people in uniform and their cars- especially police. This gives them extra points. (Seriously, youtube turkey attacks cop.) :-)

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