The Tales of Two Turkeys: Gilda & Ted


By Matt Kelly

Gilda and Mary Kelly
Photo by Matt Kelly

I never knew that a turkey would purr like a cat as our Gilda was doing right now as she cuddled beside Mary. Gilda lay lazily in the sun on her side with one leg stretched out. As Mary stroked the soft white feathers on the turkey's head, Gilda, eyes closed, let out a warm purr that anyone could see was the unmistakable expression of serenity and contentment that all of us long for.

Just about a year ago, Gilda was born into the cold world of a mechanized hatchery, the daughter of "breeder" parents who never knew her or each other. She grew up on a factory farm in Vermont with thousands of other young hens. I'll never forget the day just before Thanksgiving last year when I walked into the huge turkey warehouse. We had called the farmer in advance to rescue a bird as our statement against the avian holiday massacre. He walked me into a giant bird auditorium to make my selection. Immediately, an immense sea of white feathers parted a 20-foot circle around me. It was a new and moving experience to feel the stare of 6,000 curious eyes watching me. One quick, small flick of my hand would bring the immediate and excited gobble of 3,000 throats. How could anyone make this decision? I waited for one bird to come forward. . . . One did.

The first thing our Gilda did when she touched the ground at our home was to just look around for a long time. Her eyes stared intently at every new thing. She constantly tilted her head from one side to the other not to miss a single detail about us, the yard, the sky, anything. It was like watching a baby seeing the world for the very first time.

Six months later, Gilda knows our place as if she'd been here all her life. In a way, she has, because her life started when she came here. I look at pictures I took at the factory farm. Thousands of quizzical faces peer into my camera lens. Faces that are no more. Except one, who anxiously waits and calls out in her pen for visits and treats, which she receives no shortage of from Mary.

Gilda roams our yard whenever we're home. She doesn't leave the yard, or stray far. The other day I confess that I spied on her, as she intensely worked on a very private project. With her stub toes (her toes were cut off on the day she was born), she meticulously dug out a hole in some soft earth for a nest, and shaped it just so. She then canvassed the yard, carefully selecting just the right grass and twigs (with her cut-off beak, another painful mutilation endured in her former life) to line her precious nest with. I went back a short time later to find her sitting in the new nest, and jealously guarding a lovely egg.


By Matt Kelly

Turkey House
Photo by Matt Kelly

A front page photo, two years in a row! That's our Ted. But no wonder. Ted the turkey was a smash hit at every school we took him to visit the week before Thanksgiving. "A ham of a turkey," someone quipped, as Ted proudly strutted, fanned his tail feathers from this side to that, puffed out his big air-filled chest, displayed his beard, dragged his wings, rumbled, and to the delight of his audience, gobbled his heart out. The elementary school students really learned a lesson from Ted, as the friendly turkey marched along inside the circle of children crowded around him. They learned that turkeys have personalities, feelings, and characteristics of their own, just as we do. And don't think twice: Ted was in his own glory. He loves to show off.

Four years ago, we rescued Ted from a predictable ending. The turkey chicks were advertised at a local Agway as quick weight gainers in time for "turkey day."

Ted is very possessive about our company. He will make his dinosaur tracks right behind us on walks over half a mile! He has even chased strange dogs away from our yard.

Ted is a very gentle bird. He enjoys everyone from small children to adults. He loves to have his head petted and rubbed. He is very jealous of anything you may heed more than him.

It's hard to catch Ted with his tail fan down. He never wants to be thought of as anything less than magnificent. It must be hard work being so beautiful, so when Ted thinks no one is looking, down go the feathers, and he may even sit down. But just one look out the window to check on him, and his 44 pounds are instantly up in all display, just in case someone should have the desire to admire him one more time.