Last winter, residents of the northern suburb of Winthrop Harbor took to the Internet to follow the exploits of seven wild turkeys, dubbed the “Magnificent Seven.” The birds walked around the neighbors’ yards and spent the night in the nearby oak trees. Local residents shared pictures on Facebook and marveled at the beauty of the birds.
This year, when the birds return, officials plan to create a “turkey” on the village’s website to let people know where to find the animals.
Onlookers say turkeys have been spotted throughout the Chicago area, including McCormick Place and Beverly on the South Side, Evanston, South Holland, Bull Valley and along the Fox River.
The return of the bird is a conservation success story. Wild turkeys once abounded in Illinois, but by the early 1900s they were hunted to oblivion. Public and private conservation groups restored them in the middle of the century, and they have grown to stable numbers, with an estimated 5 million across the countrydespite the recent drop.
This Thanksgiving, while many Americans will be eating the fat, white, flightless domestic turkey, its brown-feathered wild relative will be roaming the streets gobbling and wagging its tail to show off.
Turkeys occupy a rather unique niche in the bird world. They are among the largest birds in North America, with males growing up to 4 feet long, and unlike migratory birds, they stay here for the winter.
They can fly in short bursts of up to 50 miles per hour and can run at speeds of nearly 20 miles per hour. They feed on oak, hickory and other nuts, field grains, plants and insects.
Adult males are called gobblers, females are called chickens, and chicks are called chicks. A group of turkeys can be called a crop, pen, or flock. The birds typically have black and bronze feathers with white spots, a blue head, with red caps and throat webbing.
According to the words, turkeys don’t just eat birdwatchingdaily.com — they make a variety of sounds, including cackles, cackles, and purrs when flying. The National Wild Turkey Federation holds an annual convention to save the animals and keep them for hunting.
All 102 counties in Illinois have a fall turkey hunting season. every year, hunters harvest about 700 of them, mostly in rural areas — although state records show someone got one in Cook County last season.
Founding Father Benjamin Franklin didn’t call for the turkey to be chief state coat of armsbut he did extol the virtues of turkeys as “more respectable” than eagles, “true natives of America,” and “a bird of courage.”
There are six subspecies of turkeys, with those living in Illinois usually being eastern turkeys.
The turkeys were spotted at Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland, where they enjoy forest clearings, said Nina Bucky, manager of public relations and programs for the Cook County Forest Preserve.
The nature center also has a captive turkey that has been imprinted on humans. But they are still rarely seen in the wild, in part because they tend to avoid humans.
In Bull Valley in McHenry County, where turkeys are often seen, Bull Valley Police Chief Tracy Dickens said they are not that shy.
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“They kind of lead the way here,” he said. “I learned to yield to them. My air horn just upsets them and they give me a “We’re not moving” look. Most people understand that they will move at their own pace.’
In Beverly, Amy Caskey named her gift shop Turkey after a series of sightings of a bird named Lucky in the neighborhood several years ago. She said the word turkey means wealth and community.
“That turkey keeps showing up when things get wild in our lives,” she said. “It’s a fun, light thing. It’s the spirit of the turkey, and it’s good for everyone.”
Not everyone likes wild turkeys. In Toms River, New Jersey, television news reports claimed that “gangs” of birds were “terrorizing” residents by blocking their roads or pecking at roofs and cars.
Still, turkeys remain rare enough that birders get excited when they see them, said Judy Pollock, president of the Chicago Audubon Society.
“They are surprisingly good flyers for such a large and heavy bird,” she said. “It’s always a surprise when they show up, so we’re excited to see them.”