Big Pea was a rogue Peacock that showed up my friend Karen’s farm, where I board my horse, during the spring of 2013. Word on the street was that the he was a wanderer, but we encouraged him to stick around. Treats helped.
Big Pea became comfortable with our presence over the first year. He appreciated that we allowed him to dip into bowls of hard food put out for the barn cats. I was sensitive to his fear of being trapped when he was bold and walked into the tack room to eat it. I gave his tail a wide birth as he made a mad dash to run out the tack room door at the sight of a human and would move the bowl into the barn isle so he had easier access to it.
By the winter he was comfortable venturing a short distance into the barn. It was a very cold winter here in New Jersey. Karen put hay down for him to lay on outdoors, under a deep barn overhang. She propped up a barn matt so he had a block from the wind and billowing snow. He spent a lot of time there on that hay, rather than to step through the snow. When he did venture into it, his feet became cold quickly. He would draw one of them up close to his body and alternate doing so to warm them. Karen successfully lured him into the barn and shut him in when the temperature fell into the single digits. Big Pea came to accept the hayloft as a viable option during those bitter nights.
That next summer, 2014, Big Pea would come and go, then casually appear in search of food and treats. We discovered he sometimes roosted high in the Pitch Pines in the woods beyond the paddocks. That winter was another cold one and he he stayed close. We were happy he decided to stick around; he knew he had a good thing.
Since this summer he’s been around daily. During the day he roosts on a paddock fence or lays in the grass under the shade of the low branch of one of the spruce trees near the barn. He forages locally – and in the bowls of cat food. He shows up when I arrive at the barn, walks towards me with a regal gait. Stops, stares at me with his intense, primitive eye and clucks to ask for a treat. Now he’ll come when I called his name; he knows it means I have something special for him. Today it was tiny cubes of Swiss cheese.
Flocks of wild turkeys occasionally walk through the paddocks. Historically they’ve been afraid and run off when we appear from out of the barn, scuttling in a flurry or getting loft to fly up into the trees in the woods.
For the first two years Big Pea kept his distance from the turkeys; he eyed them a bit warily, but that began to shift this past spring. It was his second spring of wandering and searching for a mate to no avail. He was fanning at me and even at the cats. It seemed he longed for companionship; I noticed he would sometimes walk off when the turkeys came by, in an attempt to join them. I was observing how he was meandering towards them slowly, stopping, then scavenging with them while remaining on the edge of the flock. Over time they accepted his presence.
On two occasions during the summer, I heard him call out from a high in a tree in the woods – a cry of warning. Then I heard the gobbles and rustles of turkeys in the leaves on the forest floor as they ran for cover. I knew Big Pea had become not only their friend, but their protector.
One day this summer he and I were spending some time together in the barnyard when the large turkey flock came up to the edge of the woods. Big Pea slowly walked off to meet them, about 10 yards away. After a few minutes of mingling among the turkeys, he walked away from them back over to me. He stood close to me and clucked. I understood that he wanted the turkeys know they did not need to fear me. Soon after that the turkeys began to move in closer to he barn.
Today, I walked out of the rear barn door and came face to face with three dozen wild turkeys, only a few yards away. Some of them scuttled a bit, but then relaxed. We stood, we stared at each other a bit, then they resumed, scratched through the piles of dried oak leaves near the barn. They didn’t fear me, but had healthy caution. I enjoyed them as they moseyed through the leaves, meandered through the fence and out into the woods.
I was grateful for Big Pea’s effort to show the turkeys he could be their ally, and that I could be, as well. I walked over to where he was, under the spruce tree, and thanked him.
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