A Tribute to Charley
We first met Charley a few years ago at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington. At that time their new garage had not been built so they provided an open parking lot for patients, visitors and employees. One day after parking for an appointment we got out of the car and were approached by a friendly turkey who was quite at ease with our presence. Of course we were thrilled to see a wildlife bird up close and personal.
A few other people seemed to know him and greeted him with “Hello, Charley”, as they went by. He took all of the attention graciously. A parking lot mini bus came by and we got on to ride to the main entrance of the hospital. Naturally we were full of questions about Charley. The driver told us that he had been showing up annually for a couple of years and staying for several weeks and he was the main attraction in the area.
Someone named him “Charley the Turkey” and that was only right. He wasn’t just a plain “tom”; he had his own personality and was an important part of the hospital staff; a front line special greeter to all who came. He usually took time to come and greet everyone within proximity. After a brief exchange. i.e., “How are you doing today, Charley?” “Nice weather we’re having”, etc., he casually observed our human activities while we were in his line of vision. Occasionally, he might follow for a few minutes in case a treat dropped from a pocket or perhaps to enjoy your company a little longer. Then, pecking at the ground here and there, he went back to whatever was on his schedule for the day.
It seems that turkeys like open areas for feeding, mating and habitat and use forested areas as cover from predators and for roosting in trees at night. Such a varied habitat of both open and covered area is essential for wild turkey survival. And the parking lot at Lahey with a partial fringe of surrounding trees fit the bill. Never did hear or see a mate or little ones so don’t know how he made out in that respect. (On the subject of offspring, it was interesting to find out that a juvenile male is called a“jake” and a female is called a” jenny”.). Anyway to us Charley seemed to be a contented bachelor.
A turkey’s diet usually consists of acorns, seed, small insects and wild berries although Charley must have had a very varied menu with treats from his friends and cafeteria folks. Male turkeys are polygamous. Mature turkeys have 3,500 or so feathers iridescent in colors of green, copper, gold, and bronze, depending on the angle of the sun. In spite of their size, they can fly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour and run at least 12 miles per hour.
The Apache Indians considered the turkey timid and wouldn’t eat it or use its feathers on their arrows. Charley, in particular, amazed many of the folks who came to Lahey. Turkeys are usually very cautious birds and will fly or run at the first sign of danger; also they have many vocalizations: gobbles, clucks, cackles, etc. and strut about to impress a possible mate or compete with other toms. But Charley was perfectly at ease sharing his habitat with us. He accepted his human acquaintances without reservation; was always quiet, and appeared to listen attentively to every word spoken. He never strutted but walked with a dignified assurance.
Then one day we went to the Clinic but didn’t see him anywhere; we found out that the inevitable had happened; Charley’s public relations career was ended when he was hit by a car. We were so saddened by the news, and of course he was dearly missed by all those whose lives he fleetingly touched..
History notes that Benjamin Franklin wanted the Turkey to be designated as our official National Bird rather than the Bald Eagle. In a letter to his daughter he wrote:
“For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…”