Turkeys are not known for their individuality, but in the town of Tisbury one particular bird stands out. It is large and long-legged, with a small red head and a long tail, much like the turkeys it runs with. It has a long beard of small feathers hanging from its chest and large pointed spurs on its feet, marking it as a male. It also has an arrow, thin and green-fletched, protruding from its right haunch. The turkey itself shows little concern with this development, but residents have taken note.
“You couldn’t help but see it,” said Grace Church parish administrator Pat Whitte. Everybody at the church has seen the bird, she said. It’s come by at least once a week since April.
Is the arrow noticeable?
“It really is,” she said. “It’s a whole arrow.”
“It doesn’t look like it’s dug in very deep, but it’s definitely sticking right out of its back,” said Jeffrey Pratt, who lives on Franklin street.
The bird appears to be unbothered, or as unbothered as one could be, by its permanent piercing. It goes through its daily routine roaming through backyards and driveways on Franklin Terrace and Greenwood street with nary a glance at its mysterious appendage. It doesn’t walk differently nor show any outward signs that it hosts an arrow in its body. The flock appears unconcerned also, which is not always the case with turkeys. One resident said she’s noticed a different turkey, which has a limp, being ostracized by the turkey community, and leaving it behind during neighborhood walkabouts.
This intrepid turkey is still “walking with the other turkeys,” Mr. Pratt said. “It doesn’t seem to be debilitated.”
Tisbury animal control officer Laurie Clements has received at least 75 calls since March about the turkey. But there’s nothing she can do.
“The problem is it’s a wild bird and it flies and it runs,” she said. “I don’t fly, and I only run so fast.”
Ms. Clements said she “would like to think” the arrow is from a hunting misfire, but this begs the question, who is bow hunting turkeys on William street? Turkeys can be bagged in the spring and fall per Massachusetts game regulations. But under those regulations archers cannot fire within 150 feet of a residential neighborhood, which would in theory rule out much of the turkey’s home territory. The bird’s range is remarkably fixed. Though it’s a regular at Grace Church on William street, it never ventures down the next block to Main street.
On the southern side of its range, the bird often stops by the yard of Franklin Terrace resident Ljuba Davis en route to the woods.
“I was just so outraged and it made me so mad that somebody would do it,” she said.
Mrs. Davis added that the turkey is always with the same group of turkeys.
“He’s not a solo guy,” Ms. Whitte confirmed.
A few years ago, Ms. Clements said, a similar situation arose that involved a sizable Save the Turkey campaign. Nobody could catch that bird to remove the arrow. And nobody can catch this one. Not that they should make a considerable effort, said Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary director Suzan Bellincampi. “Honestly, turkeys are aggressive,” she said. “So it’s not necessarily in people’s best interest to go after it.” Turkeys on the Vineyard are feral, not wild, the offspring of escapees from Island farms. But like their wild cousins they are adaptable almost to a fault. In 1995, turkey populations in Tisbury rose to enormous levels and the bird invasion made headlines from Cape Cod to Columbus, Ohio after the birds were seen knocking down elderly residents and pecking cars. In 2008, a band of rogue turkeys in Chilmark also received nationwide attention after menacing local residents to the point where people had to ward off the birds with sticks and dogs, and one turkey was shot to death after attacking a Chilmark police officer.
These days the turkey flock is noticeably smaller and less prone to violence, although on a given day at least 50 can be spotted roaming around Tisbury. Ms. Bellincampi says there are probably about 200 on the entire Island.
When the Save the Turkey campaign was under way a few years ago, Ms. Clements asked a bowhunter friend for advice on what to do.
“He seemed to think that eventually the arrow would fall out,” she said. And maybe that will be the case with this turkey, but it’s been six months since its odyssey began. The arrow remains firmly in place.
In spite of it all, the turkey keeps right on going.
“It eats, it drinks, it runs around, it’s with the flock, it flies up in the trees to roost,” Ms. Clements said. “It’s living its life.”