A rare, elu­sive wild turkey is trav­el­ing through Chicago and peo­ple are ex­cited

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NEWS - Mary Sch­mich [email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @MarySch­mich

The big news in re­cent days among Chicago bird­watch­ers is that a wild turkey has shown up near Chicago’s lake­front for the first time in, oh, 150 or so years.

In the realm of wild turkey news, this sight­ing was not nearly as big as the re­cent story about the the pack of tur­keys that pecked at a preg­nant woman in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts. In fact, Chicago’s wild turkey made no of­fi­cial news at all.

But among peo­ple like Greg Neise, the turkey’s ap­pear­ance near the lake­front has been al­most as ex­cit­ing as a photo of a black hole.

“For one to show up, as this one has, along the lake­front, is stun­ning,” said Neise, a for­mer pho­tog­ra­pher for Lin­coln Park Zoo who now works for the Amer­i­can Bird­ing As­so­ci­a­tion. “It’s mind-blow­ing that this bird has been able to suc­cess­fully nav­i­gate the heavy traf­fic and other dangers of the in­ner city, es­sen­tially walk­ing and run­ning along streets, al­leys, and through parks.”

To fully ap­pre­ci­ate the re­cent turkey sight­ings, you have to un­der­stand that by the early 1900s wild tur­keys had van­ished from Illi­nois.

“The story of wild tur­keys in the east­ern United States is kind of sim­i­lar to the story of the bi­son in the Great Plains,” Neise said. “When the Euro­pean set­tlers got here they found wild turkey an abun­dant food source. They hunted it al­most to ex­tinc­tion.”

But in re­cent years, tur­keys have re­turned, pro­lif­er­at­ing in forested ar­eas and along river­banks, in small towns and sub­urbs.

“The city proper is sur­rounded,” Neise said. “They have adapted to sub­ur­ban and town sit­u­a­tions rapidly, but the city proper is es­sen­tially a dead zone.”

The so­journ of the turkey in ques­tion be­gan at­tract­ing at­ten­tion on April 7 when a teenage boy snapped its photo in Evanston, just north of the Chicago bor­der. The turkey was out­side a plate­glass store­front.

“One thing I have no­ticed is that it is drawn to its re­flec­tion in win­dows,” Neise said. “It’s look­ing for other tur­keys to flock with, which is kind of sad.”

Two days later, the same turkey — or so it is be­lieved — was sighted half a block from Lake Michi­gan in Chicago’s Rogers Park neigh­bor­hood.

Tom Ta­ba­towski was sit­ting down to din­ner with his daugh­ter Mary when she looked out the win­dow and saw some­thing strange strut­ting down the al­ley.

“I moved here from Ap­palachia, where I used to see tur­keys all the time,” said Ta­ba­towski. “But not in Chicago.”

An ex­pe­ri­enced birder, he knew he needed to act fast, so he grabbed his phone, ran out­side in his socks and snapped a photo of the big bird, which by then had crossed the street, to­ward a big win­dow, and was be­ing fol­lowed by other awestruck city dwellers.

More re­ports fol­lowed, in­clud­ing one of the turkey land­ing in a Rogers Park play­lot.

“They do fly,” said Neise. “They’re pow­er­ful flyers. They can re­ally get up there and move. They live on the ground but they sleep in the trees.”

By Thurs­day, via foot or air, the turkey in ques­tion had trav­eled south, where it made an­other pho­tographed ap­pear­ance on a first-floor bal­cony rail not far from Mon­trose Beach.

“I was walk­ing back from the Red Line stop at Wilson when I saw it,” said Steven Glasker, a re­search sci­en­tist who lives nearby. “I walked over and thought: def­i­nitely a turkey. It was just sit­ting there watch­ing the cars go by.”

He posted a photo on Nex­tdoor, a neigh­bor­hood app more com­monly used to re­port things like shoot­ings and bro­ken wa­ter mains.

“Just saw this wild turkey hanging out at Sun­ny­side and Sheri­dan,” he wrote. “Just ex­cited be­cause I hadn’t seen any city tur­keys in Chicago be­fore.”

His girl­friend named the turkey Perse­phone.

In the name of ac­cu­rate re­port­ing, I should note that while Perse­phone’s so­journ is re­mark­able, it may not be as record­break­ing as it ap­pears. In the bow­els of so­cial me­dia I found a ru­mor — though no photo — of a Rogers Park turkey sight­ing in 2012. The oc­ca­sional turkey has also been re­ported on the Far South Side.

But there is no doubt that a wild turkey in this big city is a sight to see, to pho­to­graph, to re­mark upon. As of Fri­day, the bird was as­sumed to be still roam­ing around, elud­ing bird­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers ea­ger to spot it and be amazed.

“That this one turkey has made her way through the city is in­spi­ra­tional,” said Neise. “If ever there was a bird to cheer and root for, this is it.”

ANNA JS LEE/COUR­TESY

A wild turkey perches re­cently on a bal­cony near Sun­ny­side Av­enue and Sheri­dan Road in Up­town.

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