Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: Lovelorn jakes can be a hazard

FRED AND FRANK

Our property has become a bit of a lonely hearts club, at least for our male turkeys.
If you recall, last summer we got four day-old poults as pets to keep our full-grown hen turkey company. Sadly, the two young females met a tragic fate, as sometimes happens on the homestead. This left two “jakes” (the technical term for toms who can still be claimed as dependents) and the mature hen.
The jakes, whom we call Fred and Frank, barely acknowledge the old hen, and she seems relieved. It’s a shame, though, because the boys are desperate for love, or at least flattery.
Male turkeys are built for showing off. They’ve got tail feathers that fan out and chest feathers that fluff up and blobby red and blue skin that hangs over their beaks and down their necks. While most humans regard these droopy skin folds with fascination mixed with repulsion — partly because they have gross names, like “snoods” and “wattles” — hen turkeys tend to find them irresistible.
The boys spend most of their days pacing on our front porch, in the hopes of catching our eye through the window, and gobbling at the slightest sound, whether it be a crow cawing, a truck down-shifting or one of us sneezing inside the house. Their gobble sensors are extremely touchy.
They parade for delivery drivers, for walkers on the road and especially for our neighbor across the street, whose snow shovel makes a scraping noise they interpret as a romantically inclined hen. The minute the shoveling starts, they wobble-run across the road, oblivious to any traffic that might be barreling toward them.
It’s a problem.
To keep them home, all I have to do is yell to get their attention and then tell them how good-looking they are. That gets them every time.
If they’re inching toward the road to see if that sexy snow shovel is around, the sight of me draws them right back to the porch. They puff up instantly like a pair of self-inflating rafts.
With the humorless blank stare of runway models, they draw themselves up to maximum height and width, dragging the tips of their wings along the porch floor and pacing slowly back and forth. Each time they change direction, they pivot their tail fans to face me.
Jockeying for Most Seductive Turkey status, each constantly strives to be the one in front, arranging his tail feathers to block my view of the one in back.
They take it very seriously.
Their need for affirmation is constant, so I fawn over them 10 or 12 times a day; anything to keep them on the property. My neighbors must love to watch me step outside, squat down to turkey level and say things like, “Who are the most handsome birds? You are! Yes, you are!”
The turkeys eat it up. But what they really want is something I can’t provide: romance.
One morning, I heard a commotion on the porch. Looking out, I saw Fred — or Frank; they’re practically identical — engaged in a passionate tryst with a jug of deicer (granted, I had bought the “pet-friendly” kind, but what the turkey was doing to it was not at all what I thought the term meant).
Then, a few days later, Frank (or Fred) had a short-lived courtship with one of Mark’s barn boots. Not surprisingly, it didn’t last.
The boys need true female companionship, and the longer they go without it, the more eager they are to wander across the road in search of love.
Ideally, we’ll find them some young hens to woo, but that could be months from now. So we’re turning to a stopgap measure: a hen decoy to stake out in the back yard. It sounds ridiculous, but it might dissuade them from leaving our property or acting inappropriately on the front porch.
I couldn’t find any decoys in town, so I settled on the next-best thing: a mail-order bride. She’ll arrive in a few days, and we’ll see if her feminine charms will be enough to distract the males until we can find them the real thing.
It’s not a perfect solution. But the decoy does come with “realistic feather detailing.” That alone makes her a more suitable mate than a jug of deicer, no matter how pet-friendly it is.

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