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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Birds of a feather: Turkeys make friendly neighbors

Published: October 1, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

Some of you might have noticed that this year, Brandeis has some new residents. No, I’m not talking about the first-years, I’m talking about the wild turkeys.

While some people (including one of my roommates) might hate the velociraptor-esque fowls that now strut their stuff in the quads, turkeys have always been a part of my landscape.

Growing up, I wanted a puppy, but my brother’s allergies made it impossible. When I was bored—or just procrastinating—I would brainstorm dog names, for when I moved out after college. I wanted my pets to have strong, meaningful names. Names of characters in books—like Atticus or Natty Bumpo—that would be too scarring to name a child, but that could work for a golden retriever or maybe a Bernese mountain dog.

Then fate intervened. It was spring of my junior year of high school when turkey generation numero uno moved in.

They strutted across my lawn, eating the flowers, ruffling their feathers and ramming themselves into parked cars when they saw their reflections. They were a pain for the neighbors, but for me, always looking for a procrastination excuse, they were fun.

That summer I re-read “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and suddenly the turkeys began reminding me of the book’s characters. There was Atticus, the strong alpha male who always led the pack; Scout and Jebm who always traveled in a pair no more than a foot apart; and Boo, the loner.

The turkeys became my pets. Though I never fed them or touched them, I would run outside and take pictures of them whenever they were doing something particularly entertaining (usually running into cars), and I would worry when I didn’t see them for a few days.

I still wanted a dog, but watching the “To Kill a Mockingbird” generation, and the subsequent “Pride and Prejudice” generation (with Darcy, Bingley, Lizzie and Jane) worked to fill the void while I waited.

Until this year, my winters at Brandeis have been marred by a turkey-void. I would call home and ask my mom how they were doing and if she had seen them recently. Sometimes she will text me pictures of them sitting on top of her car in the driveway.

This year, though I still call to check in on the latest turkey generation back home, I have Louis, Felix, Ruth, John Jay, Sonia and Sandra (who, at Brandeis, could only be named after Supreme Court Justices) to keep me company.

The other day, as I was describing Louis and Felix’s most recent movements to my roommate, she asked me why I feel “the need to name every animal on campus.” (Full disclosure: Aside from the turkeys, I have also named Charlie, the gopher that lives in the thicket between the upper and lower mods, and Franchetta, a pizza-loving squirrel who lived outside my Ziv last year.)

Richard Conniff, a wildlife journalist who spends his days traveling to Costa Rica to observe spiders and Kenya to chase cheetahs, believes we instinctively watch other animals. It’s a residual effect of evolution—who will be eaten for dinner tonight, me or you? Now that humans are separated from the natural world, going to zoos or bird-watching affirms our connection with nature, and gives us comfort.

But for me, and now at Brandeis, no zoo is needed. All we have to do is look at our backyard.