Pat’s Wildways: Is That a Turkey?

By Pat Foster-Turley

I must confess that sometimes I respond too quickly to emails without really studying them. I am always pleased when people send me emails with nature questions and this happens often. But sometimes I respond too hastily without due consideration.

A female wild turkey has moved to Amelia Island and is often seen off A1A past Harris Teeter.

Take a recent email from Jeff Kennard. He sent me an email with a photo of a wild turkey on Amelia Island, near the area where I know peafowl are often seen. And I jumped to the conclusion that it was a pea hen and I naively told him about all the peafowl nearby in the Scott Road area. He was rightly insulted. Indeed it was a wild turkey, and not so long afterwards I saw it myself along A1A near Harris Teeter.

Both turkeys and peafowl are birds that are in the Phasianidae family of birds, all heavy, long-legged birds that spend most of their time walking on the ground and at first glance they look similar, at least to me. But certainly not to a turkey hunter! To see a wild turkey on Amelia Island is a sight for sure. There are plenty of wild turkeys in Nassau County off-island, on Cumberland Island and elsewhere nearby, but this is the first time I heard of one on the island. And to make it more interesting, wild turkeys are generally wary of people, but this female turkey is proudly strutting around right near passing cars, pedestrians and bicyclists. Turkeys can fly short distances and just maybe hunting activities have caused her to find sanctuary with us. When you drive down A1A south on Amelia Island you just might see her, because she has been seen often now in the same area. Just maybe the spring turkey hunting season has driven her our way for sanctuary.

Peacocks (male peafowl) are resplendent from the front when they display their colorful feathers.

The peafowl that are on Amelia Island are another story entirely. Unlike turkeys, peafowl are not native to our area, or even in North America for that matter. Peafowl in the United States are descendants of wild peafowl in Southeast Asia and India and have been bred and kept in the U.S. as pets, farm animals, and attractive additions to rural yards. Due to their loud calls when disturbed they are also known to be good “watchdogs” that notice unusual activities in their surroundings. And, of course, just watching a peacock spread his colorful feathers is a wonderful sight for sure.

The peafowl on Amelia Island mostly originated from some birds kept as pets in the Scott Road area, which reproduced and became somewhat feral. A number of years ago new homeowners in the area objected to the messy, noisy presence of these large birds in their yards and hired someone to remove them. But longer-term residents were attached to these birds and a hubbub ensued, leading to many of them being returned to roam the streets and yards again. If you visit that area on the island today you are likely to see them.

Peafowl roam freely around Scott Road and on Fort George Island.

You might also see peafowl on Fort George Island nearby where a group of them—even one white one—lives in the area around the Episcopal church there. According to residents there, some of them disappear from time to time, due to predation by bobcats and coyotes, but some are still to be found if you look for them. And if you love peacocks and peahens you might enjoy becoming a member of the Facebook Group “Amelia Island Peacocks.”

From the back peacocks are less impressive.

It remains to be seen if more wild turkeys will find our island sanctuary, but with all the rapidly expanding development there is not much room for them here. But if at least one female can tolerate the close proximity of people, maybe others can too. Nature does have a way of adapting to change and this may be happening. Indeed only those animals that can function in and around human populations have a chance at survival in this day and age. Biodiversity—many different species—may be threatened but some hardy species will survive. And just maybe turkeys are one of them, here’s hoping.

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]

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Bob Weintraub
Bob Weintraub(@rukbat23gmail-com)
7 months ago

When I first saw the turkey I didn’t believe it. I had to circle back to check her out.

Lucy Peistrup
Lucy Peistrup(@lucyp74)
7 months ago

It’s sad this once beautiful, RURAL area is being destroyed by the exorbitantly wealthy. It pains me to see the wildlife suffering. It also pains me to see the citizens who have lived here their whole lives watch this decimation while the county allows it. The tree ordinance has no teeth, they don’t care about helping the private citizen and them with finding affordable housing. It’s very sad. Thanks for bringing to light that there are some animals that might have the ability to SURVIVE despite all we are doing to push them to extinction.

Made a Chandler
Made a Chandler (@guest_68629)
7 months ago
Reply to  Lucy Peistrup

You are so right. We left 10 years ago, couldn’t bear to watch what was happening.

Susan Taylor
Susan Taylor(@sutayl)
7 months ago
Reply to  Lucy Peistrup

I saw what was no doubt a wild turkey a week or so ago–though it took a few seconds to confirm in my mind what I saw. She was taking a sand bath, turkey style, at the entrance to the Parkway Grille. I worried I should go back and try to shoo her, but decided she knew where she was and what she was doing. Turkeys are smart birds–smarter than we are!

Meanwhile, with all this growth and development, I have to avert my eyes when I turn onto Julia because of the removal of what once were beautiful trees, in the interest of greed. Just what we don’t need more of.

Barton Wiles
Barton Wiles (@guest_68608)
7 months ago

Thanks Pat. I have been here since 1981. The airport area used to be full of turkeys, bobcats, owls and wild pigs. What a mess humans have made of this once gem of an island.

Active Member
7 months ago

Always appreciate your articles, Pat!

Jeff Kennard
Jeff Kennard (@guest_68904)
7 months ago

Since I first observed the hen turkey on April 1, I have observed it multiple times. The latest was yesterday, April 29, four weeks after it was first seen. All of my sightings were near Amelia Baptist Church on Buccaneer Trail. Let’s hope she continues to adapt and survive among the habitat destruction and predation.

Jeffrey Bunch
Jeffrey Bunch(@j-bunch)
7 months ago

In my 60 years walking and exploring the island, I have never seen one in the wild. The turkeys that you are seeing are most likely offspring Turkeys. A former Fernandina Beach firefighter Randy Guess had a friend at a nearby nature preserve that would bring him the reject turkey eggs from their hatchery and Randy would incubate them and release the wild turkeys in his backyard on Phillips Manor Rd. I saw her Wednesday and do hope she’s not alone but happy to see her.