Living in a Mexican Barrio Can Be Dangerous!
Living in a Mexican barrio in a small town, we’re comfortable with the chickens and dogs wandering along the street and flowerbeds in front of our house. But then the three mature turkeys showed up, two hens and a tom, and we soon learned that turkeys are not as brainless as we thought—or as harmless. These new fowl were free to wander with the chickens, eat cracked corn when the poultry was fed, and roost in the trees at sunset.
The male began to strut back and forth in the street as though he was the guardian of the block and we laughed at how funny his performances were. When he had an audience, he would fluff out his feathers, stretch out his neck, and suddenly quiver all over while making a thumping noise. For months, he was a harmless addition to the "farm".
But, this tom, a big, homely male turkey, soon developed a hatred for golf carts—any golf cart that drove through his territory. When we would drive into our cul-de-sac, that crazy turkey came out of nowhere and ran at high speed along the passenger side of our golf cart. Was he chasing us, racing us, or trying to attack?
His long, scrawny neck would stretch out, reaching into the footwell where my legs were tucked as far away as possible. Of course, I was screaming. I’ve never lost my reflexive screaming response in the face of a feared creature. I’m sure the neighbors were laughing at the crazy gringos who were afraid of their turkey. When Jon stopped the golf cart to see what would happen, the tom ran to the front of the cart and started jumping in the air and pecking wildly at the tire and fiberglass body.
Bella, our dachshund who loves to ride in the golf cart, caused her share of commotion by barking ferociously at the turkey, pulling at the two leashes that tethered her to the center of the front seat. As she is naturally a hunter, she would like to have attacked that turkey, but I’m pretty sure he would have shredded her with those talons and his beak. I wondered if the turkey was actually trying to attack Bella rather than me.
Jon hopped out of the golf cart, grabbed a hand towel, and ran at the gobbler, whipping the rag around as he had seen the Mexican family members do, to get him to retreat. Tom turned on Jon, charged, and threw himself, talons first, at him. Fortunately, Jon jumped back in time to avoid having his legs shredded by those wicked-looking claws. Could it be mating season and Tom viewed Jon as his rival? (A look in Wikipedia confirmed that the “birds become aggressive which can develop into intense sparring where opponents leap at each other with the large, sharp talons, and try to peck or grasp the head of each other. Aggression increases in frequency and severity as the birds mature”.)
With all of my screaming and Bella’s furious barking, Jon was trying to talk over us, telling us to be quiet but in reality, he was adding to all the noise we were creating. The commotion brought one of the neighbor ladies out of the house. She frowned at the turkey, marched right up to him, stomped her foot, waved her arm, and made a hissing sound. That turkey folded his feathers down tight to his body, turned tail, and headed for the jungle. Now, why is he afraid of her but attacks us?
But one day, we learned that he was becoming more aggressive with anyone who was not part of the family who fed him. Jon was outside our gate, taking the trash to the corner for pickup when that mentally deranged feathered animal came running toward him. Jon saw it coming and, in defense, swung two large trash bags toward the bird. That must have set off the fight instinct in Tom, because he ran straight toward Jon, flew into the air, and hit Jon full force, chest to chest. Luckily, he didn’t use his talons, but I’d hate to find out what a twenty-five-pound turkey feels like when it's thrown into me.
The funny thing is that we had heard our gringo neighbors shouting about the turkey attacking them, too, but we never saw him attack the local children, the dogs, or the chickens. The patriarch of the family loved that turkey as one of his pets, stroked him, and carried him under his arm like a chicken or a small dog. Does Tom think he’s one of the guard dogs that protect the family home from invaders? At least the dogs in the family’s pack know and like us—Tom has never learned that we are one of the friendly neighbors.
It was time to try the turkey stick trick. Jon cut the mophead off of an old, moldy mop and the handle became our defensive weapon to hold back the turkey when we were driving the golf cart. Jon loaded it behind the front seat of the golf cart, handy in case of an attack. We thought pointing the stick at the turkey would make him back off.
On the next trip to town, I pointed the stick while Jon drove. It didn’t faze that loco bird one bit. He just kept attacking the golf cart like a lunatic. We didn’t want to hit the turkey with the stick or the golf cart, so Jon waited until Tom circled around to the side of the cart and then hit the gas! (Well, it’s an electric cart, so I guess he hit the accelerator.) We sped away, the turkey chasing us all the way to the corner of the block. He seemed to understand that his territory ended at the corner. My heart was racing and I secretly hoped that turkey was going into the neighbors’ Christmas pozole in addition to the pork and hominy.
No such luck. One morning while Jon was sweeping the cobblestone road in front of our casita, he asked the neighbor if el pavo was going to be cooked for Christmas. The patriarch looked hurt by the question and replied firmly, “No.” He also told Jon that the female turkeys had been killed by a wild dog. Maybe Tom had lost his mind when his hens disappeared.Before long, a white duck was added to the “farm”. That duck was like a sedative for Tom. They became inseparable friends and Tom stopped attacking people and golf carts. Sadly, the wild dog killed the duck, and Tom became more rabid than ever.
One day I planned to go outside our garden wall to water my plants. As always, I poked my head out and looked for Tom but didn’t see him. So, I grabbed my bucket of water and slipped out to water the potted peace lily. I made the mistake of turning my back on the street. Suddenly, I heard shouting and running and turned to look. The turkey was running toward me with the matriarch running after him, shouting and swinging her long-handled dustpan, sending Tom scurrying for the jungle. She saved my backside that day. I thanked her profusely, calling, “Muchas gracias,” one of the few Spanish phrases I’ve learned well.
Jon soon learned the secret to turkey patrol—a broom. The only thing Tom feared was a broom. So, we set an old broom on our front porch to fend off the loco bird, ready as a weapon if needed. We noticed other brooms began appearing across the street, propped against flower pots where they were handy for anyone who needed to usher the turkey away. The children in the family took it upon themselves to herd the turkey with the broom when they saw us walking home, keeping us safe until we got through our gate. I think they enjoyed this game.
Now when I garden outside our wall along the cobblestone road, I keep our broom handy. I’ve found that just laying it between me and the turkey is as good as having an electric fence around me. He doesn’t come near me. He must have been clobbered with a broom by someone at some point.
Recently, the neighbors built a pen for him in the jungle and we haven’t seen him in a week or so, but we still hear his gobble-gobble sound from a distance. I kind of miss Tom.
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