The Day I Went To War With Sydney's Ballsiest Bush Turkey
I come from a long line of servicemen.
My great great grandfather rode in the cavalry for the North in the American Civil War. My grandfather spent a harrowing two years fighting in the foxholes and bombed out villages of Italy’s Po Valley, battling Mussolini’s troops in World War Two. And my Dad was drafted into the US Army, right before the Vietnam War really ramped up, but was honourably discharged before being deployed overseas, having spent two years learning chants and bugle songs, doing group calisthenics, mopping mess halls and eating army rations (harrowing in its own right).
So perhaps it was my veteran bloodline that kicked in when my ordinary, sunny Sunday afternoon was suddenly plunged into violent, cacophonous chaos... by way of an attacking wild bush turkey.
It arrived in the back garden with an unceremonious screech while I was hanging up the washing. And it had its sights set on one thing: four terrified chickens now running in panicked circles inside their small wire enclosure.
The chickens belonged to my landlord’s four young children.
My partner and I rent a self-contained apartment in a subdivided house in a leafy suburb -- a lovely family of six lives on the other side of our wall.
The youngest boys, still in primary school, and their older brother and sister, now in high school, had individually selected and named their hens. The wire enclosure, complete with an elaborate house-shaped coop, takes pride of place in the back garden. The family lovingly feeds, waters, and cuddles their chickens, and dutifully collects their eggs.
And the turkey was out for blood.
With a scratch of either talon against the ground, scoring the earth and flinging up dirt and grass, it lowered its head and charged the enclosure fence.
Now I’m no stranger to confrontations with large, aggressive birds. I had a previous run-in with a territorial Canadian goose, which took exception when my pleasant nature walk encroached on its ‘area’. It ended with me running away in terror as the charging bird took a nip out of my shoulder, before retreating back to where it came from, satisfied it had made its point.
In fact I have a healthy suspicion of fowl in general, finding it prone to dive-bombing, biting, scratching, pecking and wing-thwaping, and possessing intimidating land-running speed.
Even so, I normally have a very calm and introverted personality, affectionately dubbed ‘the mediator’ by Myers-Briggs. I’m all about reasoned, diplomatic conflict resolution. Or running away.
So on that Sunday, I could have easily ducked for cover, ran inside and let nature take its course.
But in a life and death -- or fight or flight -- scenario, you really learn something about yourself.
I was home by myself. I had no weapon. But there was no way I was going to let those kids come home and find four dead chickens.
The turkey started charging the wire enclosure and ramming it repeatedly, spitting and screeching and making a solid dent in the mesh.
Inside the pen, feathers were flying and chickens were running over each other as they tried to escape the wrath of the charging invader, who had now bent the fence -- supported by flimsy wooden stakes -- nearly halfway to the ground.
I grabbed the laundry basket and aggressively waved it at the bird.
“F*** off!” I said, swinging within inches.
It was as though I was invisible. The turkey continued screeching, and rammed the fence with even more enthusiasm. A few more threatening basket swings did nothing to slow its progress.
“Shit,” I said. This thing was taking no hostages.
I quickly surveyed the yard for options. Plastic chairs, some gardening tools, a plastic baseball bat -- I was weighing up the wisdom of actual bat-to-bird contact, lest it turn some of its lethal intent on me, when I saw it: the garden hose.
I grabbed it and turned the nozzle to ‘high stream’.
Bracing myself in a firing stance, I squared up my target and fired off a shot.
Like a burst from a water cannon, the stream shot across the yard and struck the turkey right in the back.
The bird squawked and shot straight up into the air in a black streak of flapping feathers -- but to my horror, it landed right inside the chicken pen.
Pandemonium erupted. The enclosure was a blur of streaking birds and sickening shrieks as the turkey lunged, snapping its beak as the chickens ducked and dodged.
I fired off two, four, six more high-pressure water rounds, desperately trying to avoid hitting the chickens in the crossfire.
Finally paydirt: another direct hit, sending the turkey soaring up into the air. But again, it nailed the dismount, landing on the back fence directly behind the coop, where it had an excellent elevated vantage point of its terrified targets.
My heart rate skyrocketed as adrenaline coursed through my body. Again I took my firing stance, and aimed centre-mass. One last shot from the high-pressure hose and the turkey squawked and flew directly at me.
I had seriously pissed it off.
I blindly squeezed the nozzle as a I ducked for cover, barely making it inside and shutting the back door before the irate bird landed on the deck, blocking my exit.
Out of breath, I rang my partner, who was at work.
“Hi,” he said pleasantly on the third ring. “How are you?”
“I’m under heavy fire here!” I cried, peering out the window. The turkey had flown on top of the aluminium-roofed verandah, and was loudly clanging as it stalked back and forth, pounding the metal in homicidal frustration.
Amid its gunfire-like bangs, I gave my partner a quick debrief as I planned my next strategic move.
“If I don’t make it, remember to water the plants,” I told him, picturing Butch and Sundance’s last stand.
“Godspeed,” he said.
I barreled back out the door, positioning myself between the furious turkey, still stalking the verandah roof, and the chicken coop, and grabbed the discarded garden hose.
I took aim.
But suddenly, the cavalry arrived.
In a flurry of squawking, a dozen neighboorhood birds -- lorikeets and myna birds working in tandem-- dive-bombed the unwanted intruder, sending it screeching onto the neighbour’s roof.
The melee continued as more birds joined the assault, and at long last, the turkey flew off into the distance, a chorus of shrieking myna birds on its tail.
I took a breath, and checked on the chickens.
Shaken, but okay.
I righted the wire fence. I put the hose away, and finished hanging up the washing. I quietly got on with my day.
On that Sunday, life threw me a little test. And I know now, even if the stakes are high and the circumstances are dire, I won’t cower in the face of adversity.
I’ll put myself on the line, stand up for the little guy, and do the right thing. Just like my forefathers ahead of the Siege of Vicksburg, the Spring 1945 Offensive, or 'meatloaf Monday' at Fort Riley.