Call of the Wild Turkey of West Philly

PHOTO: CLAIRE KING West Philly residents have gotten used to seing their new neighbor, who escaped from a nature center last month.
PHOTO: CLAIRE KING West Philly residents have gotten used to seing their new neighbor, who escaped from a nature center last month.
Posted: May 03, 2013

ROAMING THE STREETS of West Philadelphia is a creature so fowl, one that has been cooped up for so long, that no one is sure what it's capable of doing.

Armed with spurs and with moves like Jagger's, he struts down sidewalks, sleeps in trees and searches for nuts.

He is the Wild Turkey of West Philly, who fled his home at Bartram's Garden after a duel with his brother in early April and has been wandering the streets of Philly like a bad parody of a Springsteen song.

Even West Philly residents like Claire King, accustomed to seeing everything, have been shocked by this fantastic fowl.

"It's not your little Tweety Bird in the neighborhood," King said. "He's the Godzilla of birds walking down the street!"

According to his Twitter account (@WPhillyTurkey), which has 141 followers, the West Philly turkey's given name was Fred, but since hitting the streets he's changed it to Barkevious.

The first tweet, sent April 15, read: "My brother is a giant douche, so I left his ass at Bartram's."

Last spring, a female turkey "just showed up" at Bartram's Garden, a 45-acre National Historic Landmark at 54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard in Southwest Philadelphia, said Bartram's communication manager, Kim Massare.

A common theory is that the bird may have made its way to the garden from the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum.

The staff at Bartram's named the bird Franklina - Frankie for short - after Philadelphia's favorite son, Ben Franklin, who wanted the turkey, not the bald eagle, to be the national bird.

Within days of her appearance, Frankie had three baby turkeys - two boys and a girl.

As the babies grew and this spring arrived, the lady turkeys went off to places unknown, leaving behind the two brothers.

Early in April, a rift started to grow between the brothers that no man or turkey could traverse.

"When it was just the males, they battled it out for territory," said Bill Butler, Bartram's site coordinator. "Whoever took the most punishment had to go."

That was our ill-fated Barkevious - the gobbler who had his giblets handed to him in a bag, who had the stuffing kicked out of him.

"He's just been wandering around in West Philly trying to find his place in the world ever since," Massare said.

Bartram's put up a picture of the bird on Facebook that elicited tales of sightings from West Philly residents.

The first photograph of Barkevious was shot about 7 a.m. April 10. Kaya Oyejide was walking to her car on 50th Street near Springfield Avenue when a man pointed him out.

"It freaked me out a little when I saw the turkey, but the little guy didn't seem to mind all the attention," Oyejide wrote in an email. "To tell you the truth, I wasn't too surprised to see him as there is never a shortage of interesting creatures on my block."

About 7:30 a.m. April 12, Claire King heard some unmistakable turkey talk down below on 45th Street near Regent.

"I looked out of the window and right by my neighbor's BMW was this amazing, big turkey," she said."It always amazes me, the things that you see in West Philadelphia. It is extraordinary."

Barkevious was calm and even used the sidewalk, King said.

"He was kind of progressing down the street like Mick Jagger, bobbing his head," she said.

Massare said King and Oyejide did just as anyone should if they come across Barkevious: They snapped pictures from a safe distance.

"If threatened, they can be pretty aggressive and they have spurs on their legs," Massare said. "Don't let your little kids run after the animal."

The turkey is free to roam, Massare said, but if he appears to be hurt or injured, she suggests contacting the Schuylkill Center's Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic or the Tinicum refuge.

Gary Stolz, refuge manager at Tinicum, said the refuge has more than 72 turkeys. All are wild turkeys, which are native to North America, he said.

Turkeys roost in trees at night and eat everything from seeds to grasshoppers to acorns and nuts, said Stolz.

"He'll survive very easily out there," Stolz said. "There's a lot of nuts in Philadelphia."

Oyejide said she hasn't seen him since she snapped his picture.

"Hope he's doing okay," Oyejide wrote, "would love to have him over for dinner sometime."


On Twitter: @FarFarrAway

Online: ph.ly/crime

Blog: ph.ly/Delco

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