No Ordinary Bird

Loukia Janavaras

© Copyright 2024 by Loukia Janavaras

Photo of Grovis, the turkey, (c) 2024 by Amelia Tyson, Minneapolis, MN.
Grovis, the turkey, (c) 2024 by Amelia Tyson, Minneapolis, MN. 

Nearly every time I would drive from our home in southwest Minneapolis to visit my 92-year-old father, I would encounter a lone, wild, male turkey at the only four-way stop on a main road. He would usually be on one side of the street or the other. I often found myself at the stop sign waiting for him to cross, feeling impatient and irritable since I was usually in a rush and that’s usually about the time he would start crossing the street and stop right in front of my vehicle. But that was his home, so what else to do except simply exercise patience in the midst of frustration. It amazed me that he was bright enough to cross where he knew cars would be stopping.

I’m generally not a fan of birds. That is an unpopular statement, I realize. I mean who doesn’t love a songbird, their bright colors popping through foliage? When I told my father this years ago, he was dismayed. How could a person like me who enjoys poetry not love birds? And yet, it’s a fact. I can’t even explain why. Perhaps it was that Hitchcock film I saw much too young. Perhaps it was because a momma robin chased me as a child and frightened me to bits or those hens at my grandma’s house. Perhaps it’s all the noisy pigeons and their droppings I used to have to clean up off my balcony when I lived in Athens, Greece while others think they need to feed them.

When I would encounter the turkey as I was coming or going, or if by contrast, he wasn’t in his usual vicinity, I would update my husband. We would joke about it. We had each given him our own nickname. I called him Captain Morgan, not after the alcohol but rather one of the cross streets and well, because he kind of commanded respect as a captain would. My husband referred to him as Mr. Turkey. Again, a title. During a severe cold spell this past winter he drove by to check on him. As it turns out, he made it through the deep freeze just fine, even if it meant standing on one leg at a time to keep warm. He was a survivor, that was clear. I had even told a friend of mine about him because when I was on my way to our Sun magazine reader meetup one Wednesday in late February, Captain Morgan had me running late. Again.

That following Saturday I saw a post on a neighborhood app claiming the turkey was intentionally run over by a weekend substitute mail carrier and that the mail carrier had beaten him with a shovel the Saturday prior. There were eye witnesses to both events who were too afraid to come forward because of the aggression the mail carrier exhibited. This was beyond shocking and disturbing to me, a friend of the USPS, someone who holds the US Post Office and its employees in very high esteem. The post created an uproar of over 200 messages on the app. People created a memorial site at the intersection where the turkey resided. I learned that my husband and I were not the only ones who had a name for him. “Gregory Peck” seemed to be the most common. I also learned that Gregory had resided alone in that spot since May of last year.

Most people shared their fond stories through comments to the post saying how sightings of him each day brought joy to their children going to and from school on the bus, how he was a member of the neighborhood. Most were also saddened and angered by how this animal’s life was taken in such a violent manner. But there were others. Those who said, “he probably had it coming”. That we should “thin some out” because they are “nuisances.” That the mail carrier should not lose his job because of an “accident.” One woman who identified herself as vegetarian shamed others for caring about this animal because they eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day. A man brought up how a vicious bird had attacked him as a child. One woman offered that maybe another lone turkey from another neighborhood could fill in for him now, as if life worked that way, that when a living creature dies, it can be merely swapped for another like second-hand clothes. Apparently she had no clue that this was not just an any wild turkey. This bird had become the neighborhood mascot. Yet another woman chimed in to claim the turkey was problematic when she had guests over last Thanksgiving. Smart bird. I could not help but wonder if this animal was such a nuisance, why was nothing said or done about it? My conclusion was that it likely never was such a nuisance, at least not that we had ever witnessed. Regardless, beating an animal with a shovel and purposefully running it over is clearly not a humane solution. Somehow the killing of this turkey divided us in ways we would have never imaged, and as is often the case with social media comments nowadays, it got ugly and mean-spirited.

An online neighborhood journal did a short blurb on it stating it had “died” after being “struck by a vehicle.” Luckily a week or so later, they did a better write-up sharing people’s stories and included that the postal service was looking into the matter but had no comment at this time. The person who witnessed the attack and I had previously chatted about it in a private message shortly after the post appeared and though she did share what she saw for the journal, she preferred to remain anonymous out of fear—fear of the violent mail carrier, not to mention the backlash from the armchair warriors. A day later the city newspaper featured the story in their variety section. While this write-up started out with stories about the beloved neighborhood mascot and included stories about those who despised him as well, it quickly dwindled into a generic report of facts about all wild turkeys and the dangers of wild turkeys living in urban areas, and so on, and so forth. In other words, it wasn’t about this particular story at all. I do question whether the feature was AI-generated or if the writer was just desperate for filler.

Although I was grateful I did not witness the awful cruelty of this animal being beaten and run over, I somehow wish I had so that I could report it as an eyewitness. The most I could do was submit a report on the USPS website which I did. I was amazed to receive a call from the investigator a couple of days later. I contacted people from the neighborhood app who were witnesses and had things to share and put them in contact with her. Animal control was notified. Astonishingly for this day and age, there was no doorbell camera footage. Somehow the more people tried to cover up what actually happened or tried to pass it off as an unfortunate accident, the more obsessed I became. It consumed me. Something burned inside and my gut told me to trust the eye witnesses as no one would have any reason to make up such a horrid story. I had just sworn off social media for the month while ironically, I was offered and accepted a volunteer role as mediator for this particular neighborhood app. Although I was dying to write about it, ironically, I had just started taking a flash memoirs class where all the reading and writing was just that.

In the meantime, as the month wore on, it seemed that people were forgetting all about it already. All the heated emotions in both directions had seemed to cease. I’ve tried to follow-up with the USPS investigator with zero luck. Why would she not follow up? The makeshift memorial has already been taken down. How disappointing that we forget so easily about the little (and big) things that matter in life. I questioned why I was so consumed with this. Yes, I’ve always had zero tolerance for animal cruelty of any kind, regardless of the species, of course. But why did I care so much about this turkey? Perhaps it was because he was a loner, which I can identify with. Perhaps it was because he too had overcome so much. Or perhaps I just wanted justice for an innocent being. Someone had to be his advocate, even if that someone doesn’t really care for birds. I do love being an advocate though, very much.

Since then, I did a bit of research on wild turkeys. I wanted to know if it’s common for them to be living solo. According to an online report on facts about wild turkeys by Red-tail Land Conservancy, they live in flocks, the males live in a posse when not in the breeding season but they do not live alone. Maybe he was an outcast, not wanted by the others. As a survivor of bullying, I can relate. There was a reason that turkey lived where he lived on his own all that time because it wasn’t common, and neither was he. It’s taken me two months, but I vowed to not let him (or myself) down. His story deserves to be told and read for what it has taught us about ourselves and what we value, for how it has exposed our innermost vulnerabilities. During his life, he united us because he gave us a common experience with which to bond. Those brief sightings of him in our day-to-day existence kept a sort of equilibrium amongst all inhabitants, human and animal. He made us smile. He made us worry. He made us frustrated. He made us feel. And now that he’s gone, we stand divided and void. Driving to and from my dad’s isn’t the same any more. Gregory/Mr. Turkey/Captain Morgan/ Logan/ Turkey Tom is no longer there to remind us to practice patience and to peacefully coexist. I never thought I’d say this, but wow, do I miss him.

Loukia enjoys reading and writing nonfiction and poetry and spending time with her husband, Andrew and their cat, Mr. Blu. 

Contact Loukia

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher