Story & Photos by Heather Bolint
Growing up in Maine, I had always been familiar with the wild turkeys that would frequent the apple trees and bird feeders around our house. They were fascinating to watch and especially impressive if we were lucky enough to witness them flying into the pine trees at night to roost. They have enormous wingspans which most people forget about because turkeys are often seen walking rather than taking flight. There are so many misconceptions about turkeys, that people often forget how wild they are and that they can fly.
Despite the fact that I grew up in the country and shared the landscape with these amazing birds, I never really got to know turkeys that well until I lived in Southern California. This may sound strange but it’s true! Tucked into the hills of the high desert outside of Los Angeles is a little place called Farm Sanctuary. This organization owns a 26 acre farm in Acton, CA, with about 150 rescued farm animals, most of whom are up for adoption. I worked as their education intern for the months of June and July this last summer, which included giving tours of the farm to the public. It was heart-warming and inspiring to see how visitors immediately connected with the turkeys at Farm Sanctuary. There was one turkey in particular whom everybody loved, named Turkey Lurkey. She was our official “turkey greeter” at the front gate when visitors entered the courtyard because she loved attention! She would follow people around with the hope that visitors would spend some time scratching her under her wings. The visitors to the farm loved to give Turkey Lurkey this attention, and if she had it her way she would let people pet her all day long!
Another turkey who got quite a bit of attention was Minerva, a turkey who was being raised as an “organic” turkey for slaughter. Because of the fact that she was originally destined to become somebody’s lunchmeat, she had an insatiable appetite for food and was quite large because of this. Like Turkey Lurkey, Minerva also loved to follow people around, not because she was hoping to be pet, but because she was hoping someone had food. She was so sweet and had the cutest little voice. That was something I found most surprising about turkeys was the range of their vocalizations and how adorably tiny their voices were compared to their often large bodies.
Martha was another turkey who was also interested in food because she was going to be raised for meat before ending up at Farm Sanctuary. Her feathers were all white, a product of the agriculture industry’s realization that consumers prefer light-colored meat, and thus white feathers ensure that the meat is light. Martha loved to sit in the sun, dust bathe, and preen her beautiful white feathers.
Russell and Leopold were two of the male turkeys at Farm Sanctuary, and the males unfortunately have to be separated from the females because the agriculture industry had caused them to grow so large that they might actually injure the females if they try to mate. But these two guys were the sweetest turkeys. They too, had little voices for their big bodies, and loved to puff up their feathers for any ladies that might be nearby – including visitors! I was fascinated by how colorful the skin around their faces were, and how bright their snoods and wattles would turn when they were trying to impress a female or were excited about something.
Russell and Leopold were so gentle and enjoyed the company of both animals and people alike. Because really, we all want the same things: good food, good friends, a place to sleep, and to love and be loved. At Farm Sanctuary, it’s easy to forget about what separates all living beings on Earth, but rather, what connects us all.
Heather Bolint is the Seattle Director for The Humane League.