Do wild turkeys swim in the ocean? You bet


From the list of things I’ve never seen (see also: Pigs flying, et al), I can now safely remove this: A turkey swimming … in the ocean no less.

A wild turkey practices its swimming technique in Blue Hill Bay. (Photo by Gary Farley)

A wild turkey practices its swimming technique in Blue Hill Bay. (Photo by Gary Farley)

One of my editors assures me that you’ve already seen the photos, since our eyes are naturally drawn to things that we don’t expect to see (like, I suppose, me filling my deer tag, or turkeys doing the Austrailian crawl on the not-so-high seas), so I’ll get right to the story.

Earlier this week I received an email from Gary Farley, which included the photos you seen here.

What an odd sight! Saw this turkey swimming from an island to the mainland. Didn’t know turkeys swam in the ocean! Just wanted to share this with you,” Gary Farley wrote.

Land ho! The journey's nearly over. (Photo by Gary Farley)

Land ho! The journey’s nearly over. (Photo by Gary Farley)

Eager to receive more details (and to make sure some Photoshop wizard wasn’t yanking my chain with a cool, but doctored-up set of photos), I sent an email back to Gary. His wife, Dana, picked up the ball from there.

“My husband (Gary) saw this foolish turkey while working on a private estate in Tremont. In order to protect the privacy of the estate owner, we’d rather not give the exact location,” Dana Farley wrote. “The turkey was swimming in to the mainland from a small island in Blue Hill Bay, about a quarter mile from the mainland. He didn’t see the turkey enter the water, only was alerted to it by coworkers when it was about a 100 yards out, watching while it came in and made landfall.”

Apparently the turkey (or another bird that looks just like it … it’s tough to tell turkeys apart) has been making frequent visits to the island, which is about a quarter mile off shore.

The wild turkey makes it back to dry land. (Photo by Gary Farley)

The wild turkey makes it back to dry land. (Photo by Gary Farley)

“As he’s been working on this estate the past couple weeks, he has seen it fly across from the mainland to the island, but watching it swim was a first! ” Dana Farley wrote. “I laughed when I saw these pictures and my first thought was along the lines of turkey soaking in brine (the salt water) in preparation for cooking…  A bird with a personality for sure, he probably deserves a name!”

I’vve been brainstorming a name for the aquatic turkey, but have come up empty thus far.

I also passed the photos along to wildlife biologist Brad Allen, who serves as the bird group leader for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Specifically, I wanted Allen to tell me that what I was seeing in the photos was real, and that pre-soaking themselves in brine during the middle of hunting season was a well-documented turkey behavior … or at the very least, I was hoping he’d say that turkeys were much more apt to swim than pigs were to fly.

On the latter count, Allen was very helpful.

“Very interesting, John,” Allen wrote. “I knew they could swim. Someone reported (and photographed) a small flock crossing Pushaw Lake last year. Animals will do whatever it takes to survive. An eagle or an osprey will often grab onto a fish too big to lift out of the water and have to swim it ashore. I don’t think it’s their preference, but stuff happens.”

Allen said he’s seen plenty of odd things in the wild, and this is just another example.

“I once observed a snowy egret in the water in Maine, pushed there by marauding gulls,” he wrote. “I retrieved it within minutes but it died shortly thereafter. The ocean was too cold.”

And that may be the oddest thing about the turkey in the photos, Allen said.

“[That is] why I am a bit surprised to see that the turkey was in the ocean. I would be concerned about hypotherrmia here, but obviously the turkey has the body mass to pull it off,” he wrote. “Very cool (pun intended).”

Dana Farley said her husband is an avid outdoorsman, and has had some interesting adventures afield. The swimming turkey episode is only the most recent.

“He has always been an outdoor person and hunter and has many stories you would laugh at,” she wrote. “[If you ever talk to him] ask him about the moose that had him up in a tree a few weeks ago.”

That sounds like a plan.

And if Gary Farley’s got photos to back up his story, you may well be hearing (and seeing) more from him in the future.

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John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.