Note: Be sure to listen to the sound on the above video clips!
Backstory: About seven months ago, someone found three turkey eggs near San Francisco. They decided to hatch them. Quite soon, they ended up at the San Francisco Humane Society. From there, they were taken to a backyard pen in Sonoma County, California, where they remained for several months. They were then brought to us by local wildlife agency to introduce to them wild, because we live in a wildlife sanctuary environment adjacent to a five thousand acre state park.
By the time they came to my me and my husband Greg, the turkeys, just 6 months old, had had too much human contact to be able to be released to the wild. They became so attached to us that despite our every attempt to encourage them to perch & sleep in trees, forage in the woodlands, and learn to fly and jump, they would just follow us around like little puppies. For the first two weeks, I chronicled this journey – us and the turkeys – almost daily on my facebook page. Packed with pictures, rich in anecdotes and open-hearted from me, you can find the entire sequence here by just scrolling down the page to Day One.
Day 22: Turkey Reintegration Project
Whole. Calm. Peaceful. Grief. I am feeling these all today.
It has been over a week since I updated you on our wild turkey project. I was telling you about everything, every day. Then a week ago, there was an event that shattered the course of events. The tasks that ensued in the week since have been all-encompassing. I soon realized that the best way to tell you about events, rather than every day, was when more time opened up as well as a path forward that I could relay to you.
One week ago, we lost one of these three dear animals to, we believe, a bobcat. It happened sometime during the night, when they were all in a tree that I had taught them to climb to keep them out of danger. We knew this was not necessarily foolproof, as no animal near the wild is completely protected from danger. But we had been given the clear direction to prepare these charges for the wild. That meant giving them ample access to wild food, wild surroundings (yet within the safe boundaries of our 1.5 wooded and meadowed acres), not reaching to touch them or engage them any more than necessary. Yet they never did “get” finding safe refuge at night. They would cluster by one of our entries – they can see us from every door, as there is glass on or near them – and wait for me to take them out to their sleeping platform (week one) or tree (week two).
But after Red was taken – her body found not far from the tree of refuge the next morning – we created a sleeping shelter for them inside the garden shed. We brought in a sawhorse, padded it with carpet and towels, and covered the floor beneath. I became over vigilant – though perhaps not really – about securing the shed and checking it at night. It has swinging french doors that don’t lock, so I would wrap the handles with bungee cords, put two barricades in front of the doors…and secure a rope from the doors to a heavy garden statue. Even then I would look out the front porch a couple of times a night, to be sure the doors were still secured. The bobcat would know there was easy food in the area, so we could be fairly certain the cat would come back each night looking for another meal.
The two left – Smokey and Blue – became more tethered to us after that, obviously traumatized by the event. It was at this same juncture that it dawned on us that these turkeys – dropped as eggs in the wild but hatched and raised in human captivity – would never be able to integrate into a wild flock. Releasing them to the giant park out back would mean certain, soon death. I started diving deep into two projects at that point: 1) more deeply researching rewilding of turkeys and 2) contacting animal rescue organizations, bird specialists, and animal sanctuaries. The purpose was to find the best way to serve the needs of these turkeys best. We had been moving forward, up to that point, solely on the word and advisory of the agency that had brought them here to our place for the reintegration. “They should be able to just join a wild flock soon.” Such advice had worked well with the rescue squirrel brought here last fall. Right away, she took to the wild, coming back every few days for snacks. We would see here in the giant fir tree out back, and running up and down the oak limbs.
Yet my research uncovered an entirely different view for these turkeys. Not long into my reading, I discovered that “wild” turkeys can never be rewilded if they have never been “wild” before. They have different vocabulary development. Imprinting on humans is their nature, once it has happened. And that started for these poults seven months ago when they hatched in the city, were then dropped off at the San Francisco Humane Society, and then shuttled up to Sonoma County where they were raised in a large outdoor pen before being released here three weeks ago.
No one agency had a clear answer for me, other than a growing consensus that the only option left for Smokey and Blue to live was in a sanctuary situation. Yet it is hard to find a place in animal sanctuaries, there is so much need and some much to consider for each placement.
The day after Red was taken, I had reached out to my friend Miyoko Schinner to see if she had any knowledge or advice for us about the turkeys. She was not knowledgeable about rewilding, she said. Yet as we conversed, she brought up the idea of bringing our turkeys to Rancho Compasión, a farmed animal sanctuary which she and her family maintain and manage on their property. I never asked to bring the turkeys there, and yet once they proposed it as a possible option, you can only imagine how happy that made me feel for our charges. The process had to be investigated on several stages first – and I continued with due diligence to contact more than half a dozen agencies in our area who might be able to advise us.
Within three days, thank you to the staff and management at Rancho Compasion, the decision to bring the turkeys there was made. But it was still going to be several days before they could go – room needed to open up, a quarantine area needed to be prepared, staff needed to be available….so for another several days, these two were still in our care. These were days of heaven and days of anxiety. I wanted them to stay safe and healthy, and I wanted to be sure they were best prepared for their new place. Smokey and Blue had become so connected with us that they would only go out grazing in the meadows or sunning on the stones if we were with them. Before we found out that they could not be rewilded, we had been very diligent about not touching them. But now that it was clear they were destined for close human contact and sanctuary the rest of their lives, that changed. They responded warmly to touch. They nibbled our toes, arranged our hair. Jumped on my shoulder when I was seated outside in a chair, on several occasions. Stood on our backs when we were laying down on the patio futon.
I became intimately connected with their language. They have a distinct conversation when grazing greens, excitedly commenting to eachother. And I know it is a conversation, because they never speak over each other, unlike humans. I knew when there was a turkey vulture or raptor in the air, as they would emit a sharp whistle of alarm. I knew their bedtime sound, which I have told you about before. The sound of a flute punctuated with light chirps and coos. I knew their honk when they felt I was too far away, and then they would run and fly toward me. Each day they seemed bigger than the day before. As much as I initially wanted them to fly and climb high in the trees, now I feared for their safety because if they flew over the fence into the park, they would be in danger. I kept up with their agility training in the low trees, just the same, as being strong and healthy, for them, was now more important than ever.
Last Friday, we drove the hour-long journey to take them to their new home at the sanctuary. I was anxious about the trip. We don’t have any large containers for carrying animals. Would they be able to just ride in the back of the RAV 4 safely? It turned out to be a wonderful journey. I put down towels and blankets and carpets to keep things soft for them. But they stood almost the entire time, completely engaged with the scenery, the passing views, and even alerting us to the sight of turkey vultures or large birds in the sky. I had set their transport area up toward the back of the RAV as that is where the door access was. But I should have known better, because of course they both clambered all the way up to right behind our front seats. Keep the clan together.
I had been telling them all week where they would be going, and how their opportunity for a good life was now better lived out at the sanctuary. As we approached, I told them Cammy Schinner , manager, would be the first person they would meet. And that she would show them everything.
The staff had prepared a barn stall for our “intake” meeting, including inspection, weighing, and getting acquainted. It was here that they firststarted seeing the other animals at the sanctuary, from Fred Astaire, the massive male turkey, to his longtime companion Ginger, to Erika the cow, to goats and ducks and….in other words, lots of critters they had never seen before. I was happy to see that rather than being fearful, they were their usual inquisitive selves.
The staff was putting the finishing touches on a quarantine pen for them – standard practice with newcomers. I was able to stay with them in the stall for the better part of an hour, acquainting them with their new place, while Greg went out and helped staff and volunteers put the roof on their pen. We then took them to the pen as we finished tying down the roof wires, working with Cammy to get food and water and straw into their pen. I showed them where their new bed was. As these two still depended on me to call them into their bed at night, I wanted to be sure they saw me at least point it out, and give them reassurance of the good care of which they are bound to be the recipients.
That night, back home, I sobbed for a good hour. These turkeys and this experience has moved me so much. They have given me so much. And they trusted me. And I did not take that lightly. My tears were those of feeling sad at missing them, sad at the fate of Red who lost her life before this amazing rescue. Yet my tears were also of gladness for the new lease on life these two have been given. Tears of gratitude for the team at Rancho Compassion who have once again demonstrated what they are really about – providing sanctuary for the animals which seem to forever be at a disadvantage, many many times directly because of the ill-thought-out actions of humans.
So it is as I opened : Whole. Calm. Peaceful. Grief. And happiness with the progression of the journey of these innocent animals. I know you will enjoy some pictures from the past week, which I will put here.
I have also just created a fund raising event for helping foster the care of Smokey and Red, and many of the other residents, at Rancho Compassion. The expenses for the sanctuary are enormous: not on the obvious food and shelter, but vet bills, medical intervention, transportation of animals, securing the facilities….it is an endless list and the need is constant. If you have been touched by the plight of our dear turkeys, any contribution is indeed welcome, if you are so able and inclined to give.
If you are not using facebook, you can donate directly on the Rancho Compasion website. Mention Smokey and Blue in your notes!
In front our our house is a small sign that says “Wildlife Sanctuary”. Somehow we feel like we have, maybe, a little bit more, earned our credentials.
In love and kindness,