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Turkeys are common sights in the Oakwood Hills area of Eau Claire.

Have you ever been called a turkey? I am sure I probably have been tagged with that moniker on several occasions. It is generally meant as a somewhat derogatory, but kidding, admonishment.

Why? I am not sure, especially considering the attributes of the super adaptable wild turkey.

Living in Eau Claire, and formerly a turkey hunter, I now realize there are two dramatically different types of turkeys. One, the wild, elusive smart and all-seeing wilderness birds and two, the urban variety which in great number hang around our residences, especially in the Oakwood Hills area of the city.

I am not saying that the Oakwood Hills turkeys are not smart. Maybe they are the really smart ones. They live in an environment where they are rarely hunted, there aren’t as many predators eager to eat their eggs and chicks, and food seems to be abundant. They also have adapted well to human contact as they show little fear of vehicles or people on foot.

Although turkeys are most numerous now, at some point in the history of our country, the turkey was very limited in numbers. It was also on the short list to be our national symbol, but eventually the eagle was adopted as more fitting for our country. This is probably a good thing as I would hate to think that hunters would shoot our national symbol.

After at least two tries involving a number of years between attempts, our state Department of Natural Resources found success in transplanting the right species of wild turkey to Wisconsin. Apparently the level of success has more than met most people’s expectations, as we are now reported to have seven million turkeys in different varieties in the U.S., of which there is only one variety in our state, the eastern, which is abundant.

I have to admit there is sometimes a love-hate relationship between the turkeys and my neighbors. And I understand as I also don’t always appreciate the little piles of fertilizer deposited on my driveway. At times when I am in a hurry, I am not sure I appreciate the attitude when they get out of the street at a pace they feel is appropriate. Speaking of attitude, we have a six-member gang of jakes that seem to be wasting their time hanging about the street corner or regularly strolling in the middle of the street, giving us the evil eye as we expect them to move.

Apparently, as these juveniles are exploring their limits of obstinance and haven’t yet learned what is acceptable in city existence. The older long-bearded males, which make up the majority of the flock, now seem to be all about feeding on seeds and bugs. When not feeding, the big birds also regularly enjoy gathering on the wall 10 feet from my back window, carefully watching us. I now realize where the term “peeping Tom” came from.

It is now late in the summer and the mating season has passed, so this time of year I miss the magnificent fanned display and the vibrant red coloring of the birds which is common in the spring. Also, the gobble is silent with only an occasional hen screech. Earlier in the year, I occasionally took out my hunting calls and had a conversation with the toms, but it will be April before I again get a response resulting in the welcome “Gobble, gobble.” Also, on occasion this time of year, we usually get a glimpse of a hen with baby chicks, but that is rare. In fact, my neighbor expressed that last year he saw three broods of chicks, 26 in all. This year the lack of chicks is a mystery. Maybe it is the result of the late spring, predators or maybe they are just being more reclusive.

I have heard reports of belligerent wild turkeys attacking individuals. Fortunately, there have been no reports of violence in our neighborhood, even though the turkeys seem to be everywhere. They are mostly not a problem.

Eau Claire residents are now accustomed to the turkey sightings, but for others visiting our community and seeing a dozen long-bearded big toms strolling along the street by Oakwood Mall is probably a special sight. For most of us who live amongst them, viewing their idiosyncrasies is a common special daily gift. Maybe not all residents feel the same fondness for these strange birds, but I personally am very appreciative that they choose our yards for their home.

Thank you strange, obtrusive birds for choosing Eau Claire as your residence. You add much to my daily life here.

Benrud is an avid outdoorsman who writes occasional stories for the Leader-Telegram.