Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Blakeman talks turkey

photo courtesy of palemale.com -- The Ramble, 8/3/08

Just a quick note.

The photo at palemale.com of the hen turkey strutting in Central Park, with a person sitting so nonchalantly in the foreground, is a wonderful image of the state of many formerly rare or uncommon native species, particularly the larger ones such as turkeys, red-tailed hawks, white-tailed deer, and many others.

The photo brought a smile to my face, as it evoked a recent experience I had in the prairie I planted in my backyard out here in rural northern Ohio.
I know from early settlers’ accounts that in the 1820s wild turkeys abounded in the great Firelands Prairie here in Erie County. Settlers would see many flocks of 50 to 100. They roosted each evening in prairie-edge oaks, and they were something of a spectacle. But by the 1850s and 60s, they were essentially exterminated from the region.

In July, at dusk, I was walking down a lane in my restored prairie, to be astounded by a giant bird that exploded out of a tree on the edge of my meadow. It dropped quickly to the ground and sprinted into the forest behind my prairie. It was the first wild turkey seen on my property in a century and half.

It was a thrill, both because of the bird’s large size and its explosive flight, and because its presence restored another ancient component of the former wilderness here.

I haven’t seen her since, but I’ve discovered a few of her molted feathers. She’s in the neighborhood, a permanent resident. She’s fattened herself, I’m sure, with bugs and seeds she plucked from the prairie I planted. I’ll see her again, I’m certain.

And there, on a lawn in Central Park was the same thing – except for the fact that not so many recognize or appreciate the bird’s iconic history.

Ben Franklin made a very persuasive argument for the turkey as our national emblem, not the predatory, thieving bald eagle. Mr. Franklin noted, correctly, that bald eagles commonly harass ospreys that have captured a fish, and steal the fish right from the osprey’s talons. This was not to be kind of nation we were to be. The turkey, it was noted, was native (as is the eagle), was large and majestic, had a strong family structure, was clever, strong, and altogether noble.

The bald eagle won the debate, probably because many European countries had one or two golden eagles in their state symbols. As a raptor lover, I concur with the bald eagle’s selection.

The wild turkey, however, has its own majesty, even (or, especially) in Central Park.

Pretty impressive, I think.

–John Blakeman