This personal documentary by Joe Hutto will always be with me.
Re-posted from 2013/04/22
As Joe Hutto drives up to his front porch in the flat lands of Central Florida the corners of his mouth turn up—he has waited a long time for this moment.
The tall, ball-capped man is usually calm and easy, yet his heart races a little as he reaches for the stainless steel bowl.
“These particular eggs that lie before me now represent something very important to me. Each harbors a mystery, something untamed and virtually unknown to us—an embodiment of wilderness. They are the wild turkey.” Joe Hutto
The nature lover knows what has to be done, only he isn’t quite sure how. No matter, Joe Hutto is committed and must find a way. This adventure into nature is like none he has ever known, nor will ever be part of again.
“Had I known what was in store—the difficult nature of the study and the time I was about to invest—I would have been hard pressed to justify such an intense involvement. But fortunately, I naively allowed myself to blunder into a two-year commitment that was at once exhausting, often overwhelming, enlightening and one of the most inspiring and satisfying experiences of my life.” Joe Hutto
The adventure begins as Joe gently places the eggs in a Styrofoam container atop a thin, blue blanket. The eggs have to be turned twice a day ‘round the clock. Two days later the devoted biologist is exhausted.
Turkey Joe, as I call him, learns to talk turkey from the chicks’ dad. All through the incubation period he coos to the babies, lets them know “Mom” is here. It is a long twenty-five days filled with emotion and anxiety. Will all the babies be okay? Will they survive? Most of all will they accept him?
“Gradually, a uniform line begins to develop that seems to be confined to a particular latitude, approximately one-third of the way from the larger end of the egg. The hatching activity is punctuated with rest periods lasting only a minute or two. Often, it seems that he resumes hatching in response to my vocalizations.
At last, the end of the egg falls away, hinged by only a small piece of membrane. The little turkey pushes at the door he has created and scrambles free of the egg. The entire process has taken fifty-five minutes.” Joe Hutto
The newborn is frozen for a moment, until he sees his “Mom.” The baby boy makes a beeline for Joe. Their eyes lock and they bond, heart-to-heart. Joe eases his hand ‘neath the chick and holds him against a warm, smooth cheek.
When the births are done, Joe is “Mom” to sixteen wild turkeys. Let the exhaustion begin. And the lessons. Such as:
• Know what is dangerous
• What is good to eat – or not
• The birds can fly at 7 days
• They are not afraid of snakes
• Turkeys don’t like turtles
• Each has its own personality
• Will run themselves to death if left alone
Joe is a hands-on parent, most of his hours are spent with the chicks. The day a 6ft yellow rat snake devours a little one, Joe moves into the coop. He is now with the group from dawn till after dark.
The turkeys are six weeks old when Joe teaches them the lay of the land, where to find water, the danger of cars. He finds they are curious, aware and very intelligent. They stop at a tree stump, seem very upset.
There is an encounter with deer, squirrels and turtles.
It is “each moment” that impresses a wild turkey. Life is not better in a half hour; the trees are no greener if they go deeper into the woods.
For more than a year “Turkey Joe” will walk the woods, witness the competition of the males, journal their likes and dislikes, fears and habits, all their encounters. He has no human contact. The journey is both weary and wonderful.
Joe is exhilarated to be accepted, to be a member actually. The “kids” follow him everywhere, come when he calls, do as they’re told. Until, one night they reach the cabin and everyone takes off. Except, Sweet Pea. She is always with him, spends most of her time in his lap, stays close when they walk.
“Mom” calls, chides, demands, yet no one listens. Joe has been excluded. The kids decide to roost in the trees, refuse to obey his call to come home. It’s a couple of hours before they return.
Things will never be the same. His acceptance has come at a price. Joe can follow but…
He is just another bird.
May Your Glass Always Be Half Full
All photos are from pbs.org