In this pictorial memoir, animal rights activist Kristin Beach expresses the life and observations of her wild turkey friend and neighbor, Edna Byrd, from Edna’s point of view. Kristin says: “I have learned so much by watching Edna. She spends her day roaming, pecking, eating what she wants – when she wants, exploring, grooming, interacting with others, doing her turkey dance, and stretching. She has control over her life and the ability to make choices. These are all things that we deny animals raised for food, and it breaks my heart.”
Kristin Beach is a longtime volunteer for Niagara Action for Animals. She lives in St. Catharines, Ontario Canada with her vegetarian/vegan family and several companion animals. Kristin wishes that all neighbors could be as wonderful as Edna.
"Wait for me, please, I can't catch up - I can't fly that far yet!" I'll never forget how alone I felt the day I said those words. I watched my flock fly away and I was left to fend for myself in strange surroundings. This was in the spring of 2008 and to be honest, it was one of the scariest times of my life. Now when I look back, I am grateful for the experience as it has inspired me to write this book and tell you my story.
Normally wild turkeys such as myself, live in fields or wooded areas with their flocks, but as I mentioned earlier I was left behind in what I now know is called a residential area. For the most part, turkeys do not live in residential areas because they are a habitat for human beings, not turkeys. Like most wild animals, my instincts taught me to fear humans for humans are our predators. You see, in the early 1900's wild turkeys were hunted almost to extinction in North America, so you can imagine why it was so frightening to find myself alone in human territory.
I was desperate to find some of my own kind and was so excited when I spotted this different looking creature that walked on four legs. This creature fascinated me and as I followed her, I noticed human beings watching me from inside their home. It occurred to me that these humans were as interested in me as I was in this new creature. I watched this creature enter the home of the humans and then all three stood watching me from their window. It was at this point that I felt compelled to stay in this new place and learn more about the human race and their strange ways.
The creature that I followed was a cat and like a great deal of humans, I find cats to be fascinating creatures. As I traveled throughout the neighborhood, I would spot cats inside homes and would often stare inside windows just to watch them. I think it is safe to say that they were very interested in me as well. Every time I would see a cat outdoors I would run up to greet them and introduce myself. Every cat was different, some were scared and some were friendly. This was also true of humans.
As you probably know, most birds live in flocks and this is where they learn all their skills. I didn't have a flock to teach me many of the important things that I needed to know and because I was studying humans, I began to follow some of their ways. Although humans are perfectly capable of getting from one place to another by walking, a great deal of them use a car to get around. While trying to learn more about cars, I discovered that they could be a very good place to sleep at night. I preferred the cars with roof racks. I learned that some humans did not want me on their cars and those humans would chase me away. I quickly learned where I was welcome and where I was not.
I would often pretend to be busy pecking the ground and doing what turkeys do in order to learn more about humans and their peculiar ways as their conversations with one another revealed a great deal about them. It turns out that a lot of humans did not want me around because I poop wherever I like and they did not want to clean it up, especially from their cars! To this day, I am still not sure whether or not humans poop. Regardless of how many times I looked in their windows, I would never catch them in the act. I would see them eating food, sleeping, talking and spending time with their cats, but never pooping.
In addition to having cats as companions, humans also have another
creature they share their homes with, a dog. I have had a few terrifying
encounters with dogs, well one dog in particular and it totally caught me
offguard. I was busy pecking at the grass when out of nowhere this dog came
running at me. I heard humans yelling and I tried as best as I could to get
away, but that dog kept coming. I could feel her tugging at my feathers with
her teeth and although I tried to fly, I could not seem to get away.
Finally, a young boy was able to stop her and get her away from me. This
moment was scarier for me than the day I was left behind. I stood in a
driveway and couldn't move. It was as if my legs would not work. I wanted to
leave that neighborhood and never come back, but then I noticed how the
humans were behaving and I realized that I had a lot more to learn. One
woman was speaking to me so softly asking if I was all right and the little
girl who screamed for help when the dog got loose was sitting near me
crying. I gathered my strength and went to a quiet place to recover and
For the summer months, I would hang out at various homes and got to know the humans around me much better. Like most birds, bedtime for me was at dusk and I found a nice human family that allowed me to sleep on their car. As the humans walked by with their dogs (all on leashes, thank goodness) I could hear some of them wishing me a goodnight. Some would stop to take a picture and others would slow down in their cars to have a look at me. One night when I was fast asleep the human needed his car and I found myself out of a bed in the middle of the night. While turkeys have great vision in the day, our night vision is terrible and I felt very disoriented. I kept walking on the road to be under the street light, but this was dangerous because of the moving cars. A woman came up to me and although I could not recognize her face, I knew her voice. She was one of the ones who always said goodnight. She was trying to get me to follow her but I would not. She went in for help and brought out the little girl who saved me from the dog. Together they herded me to their car and waited until I flew on top and settled back down to sleep.
I began to realize that cars may not be the best place to sleep and the human girl obviously felt the same way, because the next night she encouraged me to sleep in a tree. She was smart, she wore a hat that made her look like a cat thinking that this would entice me to follow her and she was right. She stood by the tree and called softly to me. I stopped and looked up at the tree and kind of got this home sick feeling. I flew up into the tree and wondered if my flock was sleeping in a tree somewhere nearby. For the next three nights, I slept in this tree and this seemed to please the humans. I heard them remarking that this was a much safer place to sleep.
As fall approached and the weather began to get colder, the humans seemed to get a little anxious. They seemed to stay indoors a lot more as apparently they cannot tolerate the cold as much as wild turkeys can. A couple of humans decided that I needed a house to keep warm. They brought home a huge crate that had a floor, three sides and a roof. I would not go in it so they decided to renovate. They put it up on pillars so it was up high, put in a great tree branch for a perch and grass on the bottom. Still I would not go in. This generated a great deal of discussion and speculation. Some humans thought that since turkeys were preyed upon by other animals, they could not put themselves in an enclosed area with only one way of escaping. Others believed that the sides should be removed or the roof taken off. Some could not understand why I still chose to sleep on railings, planter boxes or the occasional car instead of this house that they built. To be truthful, I knew that if I wanted to continue learning about the humans, I would have to be as close to them as possible.
I learned that in the fall, humans celebrate two holidays, one known as Thanksgiving and the other as Halloween. On the Thanksgiving weekend, I disappeared from my usual neighborhood on the Friday afternoon and did not return until Tuesday morning. This was because of a tip that I got from the girl in the cat hat. I overheard her saying that she was afraid for my safety because it was a custom for most humans to eat turkeys at Thanksgiving. I recalled the fact that my ancestors were almost hunted to extinction and I felt that it was best for me to leave. Upon my return, I could sense the relief in some of the humans that I was safe, they were happy to see me back. Halloween was not as scary for me as Thanksgiving was and I spent a great deal of time pecking at pumpkins.
After Halloween, winter moved in and I think winter is harder on all creatures, even for humans with their warm houses. For wild animals, it is tougher to find food and quite often difficult to keep warm, especially when temperatures dip really low and the wind is howling. Sometimes I wish I did have my flock to help keep me warm and I think the humans felt the same way. I overheard one woman saying to another that they could see me shivering and hopping from one foot to another and they were considering inviting me into their home. Then they would discuss how I was a wild animal and knew what I had to do to survive. I think they were beginning to worry about me like they do their companion cats and dogs. Needless to say, my interactions with cats in the winter were very limited because like their human companions, they do not like being out in the cold. However, I learned a sad fact about cats. It turns out that not all have homes and sadly some roam the streets looking for food and warmth. Just like some humans have been kind to me, some humans are kind to these homeless cats and try to help them.
Thankfully, dogs do not spend as much time out in their yards in the winter either. I took advantage of this fact and bravely flew into the backyard of the dog who chased me earlier this spring. I stayed there for a week straight and learned a great deal. You may think it was reckless to visit this yard with that dog, but I knew it was safe because this is where the girl with the cat hat lived. She shared her home with 6 cats, that crazy dog and 4 other vegetarian humans. I slept out on their deck directly across from their bedroom and they seemed very pleased to have me there. They were as intent on watching me as I was on watching them and this was when the idea of this book was born.
Needless to say, the winter of 2009 was a very tough winter. There was so
much snow and too many cold days and nights, with very little sunshine. Even
though wild turkeys can walk through snow, I preferred to walk along areas
that humans had shoveled. Some even shoveled paths for me. When it was time
for bed, I always tried to find a place that was free of snow but that was
almost impossible. I always ate the snow around my perch to make it more
comfortable. Every morning when I awoke I would stretch before getting my
day started. I would stretch both of my wings out to the side and extend one
of my legs to the back, balancing on one foot. I would then repeat this on
the other side. It helped get my blood pumping to warm me up. Oddly enough,
I caught one of the humans doing the same thing in her house. Apparently
some humans practice something called yoga and they do a similar stretch
called Verabradsana. Personally I think the pose should be called ‘graceful
turkey at dawn,’ and you would think so too if you saw my stretch!
I also spent a great deal of time grooming my beautiful feathers with my beak in the winter as I wanted to keep the snow and ice off my body. Occasionally one of my feathers would come loose and float gracefully into the air. I would quickly gobble it up as they are an excellent source of protein and in the winter when food sources are scare you need all of the nutrients you can get. I was so glad when the snow began to melt and I could finally see green grass once again! The weather warmed up quite quickly and I felt some powerful changes happening within my body. I felt a longing and urge to travel. This urge almost got me killed as I ended up crossing a very busy street where the cars went by so fast. I was exhausted and felt an incredible need to rest and crouched down right on the side of the road. Three human women stopped to see if I was alright and as I tried to cross the road again they went out into the road to stop traffic. I made it back safely across and returned to my old neighborhood, but the yearning did not stop.
To be truthful, I was lonely and I wanted to be near other wild turkeys once again. My instincts told me that they were coming for you see in behind the residential area where I lived for the past 10 months was Malcolmson Eco-Park. I realized that I didn't have to venture off too far to find a flock, that I only had to look in my own back yard, so to speak. Finally, on the Easter weekend I found them. It was a small group of 3 other female turkeys. It was so good to be around my own kind once again and I wanted to share all that I had learned with them, but I also wanted to see my old neighborhood one last time. I walked down Croydon Drive on Easter Monday and stopped at a couple of the houses where I spend a great deal of my time. I heard one of the women call "Welcome back Edna," and I answered her with a cluck and chirp but kept on moving as I couldn't wait to meet up with my new flock. I passed by the back of the houses two mornings later with my flock and heard another familiar voice call to me. I stopped and looked back remembering fondly the kindness that so many women in this neighborhood had shown me, and then I moved onward with my three new friends.
We never know where our life experiences will take us and whom we will meet along the way. We wild turkeys have pretty good instincts and I think I can say with a great deal of confidence that I have enriched the lives of the humans that I have met. I hope that they will continue to look at wild animals with awe and reverence and realize that we too need a place to call home. I do not know where I'll go from here, but I know one thing for certain. I will always remember my experiences on Croydon Drive where I lost one flock and found another.