I expected to see a turkey this week, all golden brown and featherless—not a very live bird staring in the back door... But as I walked down the hall of Runge Conservation Nature Center to meet with our nature center managers from around the state, I was greeted by not just one, but three turkeys staring in at me. Later the birds walked around and stared in the side windows as we met. It was a little unnerving.
So the tables are turning—the wildlife is starting to watch us, poor humans trapped indoors. I foolishly didn’t stop to take a photo yesterday, but Amber Edwards, one of our assistant naturalists there, pulled a photo she took last winter for me to share with you.
This isn’t our only nature center with very eager birds. Just a year or two ago, a turkey decided to walk into Springfield Conservation Nature Center and then flew around and made quite a mess. It serves us right, I guess, for inviting them to dine at the bird feeders just outside.
They’re so common across Missouri today that it’s hard to believe that wild turkeys were pretty rare here just 60 years ago. Between 1954 and 1979, the Missouri Department of Conservation started using stock of local wild birds to reintroduce them around the state. They did so well that Missouri turkeys were sent to help repopulate other states from South Dakota to Tennessee.
I asked our Resource Science Supervisor Mike Hubbard (who used to focus on turkey biology) why turkeys do so well here. He said, “They’re generalists. They do well with a good mix of woods, grassy fields and crop fields. They can eat everything from acorns to grass seeds to insects. And if they don’t find what they need, they’ll just get up and look elsewhere.”
So while you’re eating that domesticated bird this Thanksgiving, give thanks to the wild ones, too. But if they start knocking on your door, you might want to rethink that feeder out back.