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Fowl-tempered turkey ruffles feathers at Lodi dog kennel

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Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 12:00 am

On a narrow country lane lined with cherry orchards, a menace gobbles in the shadows. He will cluck at you. He may lurch toward your car. He will likely nibble on your tires. His name is Cujo.

He rules over a stretch of West Sargent Road leading to the Sycamore Lane Kennels.

There's a one-third mile stretch of road after West Sargent turns into Ray Road where an aggressive tom turkey rules the roost and defends his home vigorously against invaders — or the employees and clients at the nearby dog kennel, depending on your perspective.

Cujo, as he has been dubbed by the staff at Sycamore Lane Kennels, fluffs out his feathery bulk and goes into action when noisy cars come too close to his territory.

"We just kind of watch him do his thing out there," said Chelsea Rea, a kennel employee.

His name, chosen by the kennel staff, was pulled from the Stephen King story about a St. Bernard with rabies who attacks a mother and son and traps them in their car. The turkey version of Cujo will run up to an approaching car, flap his wings and peck at the bumper and tires in what seems like an attempt to keep cars from entering or leaving the area. People walking or jogging by don't seem to trigger his wrath, and no one has been hurt by the bird.

Kennel owners Alisia and Riney Kahler think he is protecting a flock of lady turkeys and their eggs tucked away under the trees and bushes.

But the young ladies who work at the front counter of the kennel are more concerned about their ability to get past Cujo on their way to and from work.

Rea recalled two Sundays ago when it took 15 minutes and a strategic plan to get three workers' cars off the property.

Rea was driving her car down the road to leave work when Cujo challenged her vehicle, pecking at the car and flapping his wings. Honking the horn did nothing to deter him.

Kat Peters, her coworker, was driving behind Rea, and revved the engine to distract Cujo. Rea was able to drive away, but then Peters was stuck with the irritating tom. Two more coworkers each drove down the lane, distracting the bird in turn so another car could inch farther down the road.

Eventually, Peters got out of her car, waved her arms and jumped to get Cujo's attention. The tom ran over to her while the other cars zoomed away, then Peters dove back into the driver's seat and sped off while the way was still clear. Cujo stamped around in the middle of the road as Peters eyed him in the rearview mirror.

"He will chase you all the way down the lane. He's got quite a personality," said Rea.

Clients, too, have reported attempts by Cujo to stop them from leaving the property over the last six weeks. But Cujo is picky. Not every car is worth his time or energy. To these lucky few who have escaped him, the turkey is but a creature of rumor and myth.

Cujo has been spotted in years past, along with his brood of hens. This is the first year he has been so brave as to approach cars. The reason why is not quite clear.

One answer could simply be that spring is in the air. Kyle Orr, a spokesman with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said mating season can cause aggression in wild turkeys.

Or perhaps Cujo is simply more used to the presence of humans and treats their cars like any other interloper invading his habitat.

"We certainly get calls about nuisance turkeys, but we haven't gotten one about a turkey pecking at cars," said Orr. "Generally the bird would move away from cars. This is quite unusual."

There are occasional reports of turkeys charging at people, so running at cars is still within the boundaries of normal behavior. The turkey doesn't seem to be ill or injured.

Wild turkey populations in California are healthy and growing, said Orr, and that means they enter residential property more often, especially if there's food available. They've been known to roost on cars, often badly scratching the paint, and to search for food in gardens or under hanging bird feeders.

A normal solution to a turkey problem is to remove the food source, or to get a dog for the yard to scare the bird off.

But the cover of cherry trees provides plenty of natural food for the turkey flock, like seeds, fruit, insects and salamanders. The sound of dozens of dogs housed at the nearby kennel on any given day hasn't seemed to bother them.

If a wild turkey is not showing fear of humans — or of their cars — Orr recommends using an open umbrella to keep the bird out of the way.

"It's certainly commendable that people are stopping to wait and not harming the animal," Orr said.

It might be true that the drivers are more worried about their cars than Cujo.

Wild turkeys can grow up to 3-feet, 8-inches tall, with a wingspan of nearly five feet. The big guys, like Cujo, weigh up to 18 pounds. Cujo is tall enough that his head bobs above the hood of cars as he attacks them. He is fearless.

The charging of cars on the orchard lane will probably taper off within weeks, once mating season is over. Until then, kennel employees plan to drive that road in pairs.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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1 comment:

  • Kim Parigoris posted at 10:12 am on Fri, Apr 12, 2013.

    Kim Parigoris Posts: 468

    Cujo might want to tone his behavior down as Thanksgiving approaches.[smile]

     

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