A Cat Among the Turkeys

On my walk the other morning, I came upon a flock of turkeys, two hens and about 10 half-grown poults, hanging out in the middle of the road. Yes, turkeys cross the road as much as chickens do. It just takes them longer to figure out why they need to. Plus they tend to wait until they see a car coming, so they can dash out in front of it. This apparently is the turkey version of playing chicken.

A gray tiger-striped cat, slinking along in its best “I am a fearsome beast of prey” crouch, was stalking the birds. The tip of its tail was flicking back and forth with the intensity of a fourteen-year-old trying to dry her nail polish before her next cell phone call.

The cat executed a flanking maneuver, slipping around behind the turkeys to herd them toward the ditch. Instead of fleeing, the turkeys milled in a circle in the road. They trotted back and forth, uttering anxious little clucks and all but wringing their wings in distress.

Each of the two hens easily outweighed the cat by several pounds. Even the young ones probably matched it in size. If even a couple of the birds had made a dash at the cat, which was neither foolish nor starving, it would have been out of there.

Apparently, though, working together to deter a potential predator isn’t an idea likely to occur to a turkey. They continued their trotting and wing-wringing until a bigger threat in the form of a pickup came over the hill. Then they scattered, some running for the weeds, others launching themselves a few feet into the air like overloaded cargo planes. The cat streaked back to its own front yard, tail lashing in irritation.

As I continued my walk, I wondered how the turkeys would have reacted to a mountain lion. Maybe they recognized “cat,” perhaps through scent, without the ability to distinguish between “small cat = minor nuisance” and “big cat = scram or you’re lunch.” Or maybe not. Had the stalking feline been a mountain lion, they might have skipped the worrying and been gone before it got close enough to pounce.

Either way, inquiring minds would like to know. Sort of. Scientific research is all very well, but on-site explorations have their pitfalls. My curiosity isn’t strong enough to make me want to observe a turkey/mountain lion encounter first hand. I might learn that the turkeys could recognize a real predator in time to protect themselves, but the knowledge might not offer me any satisfaction. Because if the turkeys all fled, the next best item on the lion’s menu would be me.

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