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Expressway: My backyard turkey is a tough old bird

Tom Van Riper of Oyster Bay Cove with

Tom Van Riper of Oyster Bay Cove with the wild turkey he calls “Tom the Invincible” Photo Credit: Jean Van Riper

I find myself struggling with a personal relationship that is turning sour, with murderous possibilities.

It has to do with the growing wildlife presence in the northern reaches of Oyster Bay Cove.

In recent years, I have had foxes in the front yard, a box turtle in the driveway, a snake under my car, a red-tailed hawk in a backyard tree, and a family of deer -- antlered stag, doe and two fawns -- walking the neighborhood. There is even an osprey nest filled with (large) chicks atop a support pole on a neighbor's dock. Of course for these guys, "nest" is hardly descriptive. With its layers of branches, the nest looks more like a three-bedroom condo.

But it's not all a Disney movie. Several years ago, I looked out my kitchen window and spotted a family of wild turkeys parading across the front lawn -- a male, a female and 10 chicks. It turns out that a neighbor had constructed a mini-petting zoo. Unfortunately, he forgot about the multiplication factor, and when the wild turkey population reached 60, he opened the gates and the parade began.

For the first couple of years, the turkeys thrived, with the chicks quickly growing to adulthood and reproducing. For some reason, they continued to parade across my lawn during that period. Perhaps it was because I was feeding them seeds and stale bread (against professional advice). We actually had our own version of the Macy's parade during one Thanksgiving dinner, with all 20 diners jumping up from the table and rushing into the backyard to attend the show.

But after five years of battling the resident raccoons and foxes, the turkey population is now down to one -- Tom the Invincible. He is, quite literally, a tough old bird. The raccoons leave him alone. He sleeps on a low branch across the road, and comes around each day for his meals. At first, he would retreat if I approached him with food, but he now races to my car when I pull up to the house.

In the morning, when I walk to the bottom of my driveway for my newspaper, he often meets me there and accompanies me back to the kitchen door, where he stands and waits. Or he will occasionally show up at the door and tap on it if he's hungry. If no one responds, he'll go around back and tap on the patio door.


Now for the problem. I forgot my grub control this year, and attracted a bumper crop of grubs. Tom found them under my front lawn, which he tore to shreds. Then, the day after I finished replanting the lawn, he showed up for a seed breakfast. I had to sit him down and read him the riot act: "If you want your sunflower seed and Pepperidge Farm bread crust gravy train to continue, lay off my grass seed!"

The very next day, he was back eating the seed, so we had another confrontation: "If you want to make it past Thanksgiving again this year," I said, "keep off the grass!"

As he turned to leave, I could swear he muttered something under his breath. I think he said, "What a bozo!"

He knows I'm bluffing.

Reader Tom Van Riper lives in Oyster Bay Cove.