The Ghost Turkey and Other Miracles

| 11/15/2011 1:25:40 PM

For a long time I disrespected turkeys. Over the years we’ve probably owned 20 or 30 of the big birds. None of them has ever made it to our dinner table or provided any other useful function except, maybe, entertainment. They do OK for a while. They stalk around the yard gobbling grubs and grasshoppers. They’ve even raised clutches of babies in our coop. Somehow each of them has contrived to be killed by one predator or another–dogs, coyotes, hawks, opossums, skunks, owls or bobcats before they had been here 6 months. In the morning I might let six turkeys out of the coop. In the evening only five come in. Sometimes I find a pile of feathers. Chickens thrived alongside them, but the turkeys just couldn’t seem to stay alive.

I figured they just didn’t have the intelligence or the survival instincts to make it in the open. I lost respect for domesticated turkeys.

Then I met the Ghost Turkey.

She was one of a half-dozen turkeys we got from a breeder promoting “midget whites,” an heirloom variety bred for better taste and smaller meals. The midget whites didn’t last any longer than our other turkey experiments. Soon they all had disappeared.

One of the more memorable midget whites was a shy little hen with an unusual red tinge in her tail feathers. One evening she wasn’t in the chicken coop when the sun went down. That left only a white midget tom and a bigger hen from a breed called a royal palm. Pretty soon the tom was gone also.

Six weeks later I was working in the garden on a Saturday afternoon when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a white bird larger than a chicken sneaking through the shrubs around the henhouse. It was a white midget turkey hen with red in her tail. I watched her slowly make her way through the bushes and around the corner into the henhouse. Ten minutes later she came out again, took a careful look around, and then walked across the yard. She threaded her way through three fences and into the woods a quarter-mile north of my house on a neighbor’s property.

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