'Turkey whisperer,' bird group rescue streetwalking hen from downtown traffic


It was a fair end for this fowl thanks to the “turkey whisperer.”

Ottawa got a gander at the gobbler Tuesday morning when word spread on Twitter that one had been spotted downtown. It took some intrepid bystanders and the Safe Wings Ottawa group to get the young hen safely out of traffic and into a wooded area near Shirley’s Bay.

Safe Wings Ottawa, which works to protect wild birds, had first tweeted that the animal was in the area of Bank and Slater streets and asked bystanders not to chase it into traffic and to watch for it behind the wheel.

Then Twitter-user James Chan posted among the first photographic evidence, snapping the young female, running amid cars on Metcalfe Street. Soon there were more turkey sightings than Thanksgiving.

So there's a turkey on the loose in downtown Ottawa… #ottnews #otttraffic pic.twitter.com/GoFBJwpsIJ

— James Chan (@AccidentalCity) April 3, 2018

Michel Grimard, a civil servant who works nearby, spotted the frightened bird and feared for its safety. He explained how he cornered it with the help of other bystanders. Someone threw a jacket over its head then cradled the creature in his arms and tucked the bird’s head under its wing until it fell asleep.

“I come from a farm,” explained Grimard, who joked that his colleagues have rechristened him “the turkey whisperer” thanks to the skills he learned growing up with chickens, turkeys and even pheasants near Spanish, Ont.

“If you do that to any bird, they fall asleep,” Grimard said. “When I had her in my arms, she was sleeping like a baby.”

The turkey was tucked into a milk case until Anouk Hoedeman of Safe Wings Ottawa arrived and took it to a new woodland home during a trip to deliver an injured patient to the Wild Bird Care Centre.

“I’d never heard that trick – how to pick up a turkey and put it to sleep,” she said.

But wandering turkeys are just a sign of spring, she said. Every year, Hoedeman gets calls about them turning up in unlikely places like one who spent several days camped out in a tree at Place de Ville last year.

“Give them space,” Hoedeman said. “Turkeys aren’t vicious, they’re not going to attack anybody. They tend to be younger turkeys, looking for a mate and wandering around a little bit lost.

“Normally, you just let them be but this case, it was running down the middle of Slater Street.”

She wasn’t surprised that social media was atwitter about the sighting. Turkeys are huge birds.

“People tend to be so disconnected from nature that it’s a real shock to see a bird like that in the middle of an urban setting,” Hoedeman said. “Part of it is we’ve built everything up so much they have to go somewhere.”

Visit safewings.ca for more information on protecting wild birds.

Turkey facts

Unrestricted hunting and habitat loss extirpated wild turkeys from Ontario in the early 1900s. The species was reintroduced in the 1980s and has been wildly successful, so wildly successful that some biologists say the bird is now a nuisance and an environmental threat.

Male turkeys are called toms and females are called hens. Juveniles are known as jakes and jennys, respectively

Turkeys prefer hardwood forests and fields and like to fly into trees to roost at night.

Male wild turkeys sport “beards” of modified feathers. If that doesn’t help you identify it, wait for it to poop. Male droppings are spiral shaped; female’s are j-shaped.

Turkeys have excellent vision and hearing. They can run at nearly 20 km/h in short bursts.

A wild turkey can weigh more than 10 kg and have a wingspan of up 1.6 metres.

Springtime is love time for toms and hens, which can lead to aggressive behaviour, although a turkey’s weaponry is generally limited to charging, pushing and pecking.

Human-turkey interaction has been increasing as the turkey population grows (there are more than 70,000 in Ontario) and urban sprawl encroaches on traditional turkey territory.

Source: Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

— With files from Blair Crawford

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