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.
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.
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.
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.”
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]