It’s something short of a presidential turkey pardon, but it’s nonetheless an act that indicates Billings' level of caring for America’s most prominent holiday bird.
Robin Hanel, a Billings real estate agent and the wife of Mayor Tom Hanel, donated a turkey crossing sign she purchased during a West Rotary Club fundraiser to alert drivers of turkey crossing patterns near the intersection of Virginia Lane and Rimrock Road.
City crews had anther turkey crossing sign made up for people headed in the opposite direction, said Public Works Director Dave Mumford, and found existing poles to erect the signs.
"Robin thought it would be nice with Thanksgiving coming if we put the signs up, and quite a few residents have made comments that turkeys do cross the street there," Mumford said. "It was generous of Robin to donate that sign."
Wild turkeys have long used the venue to, as the old joke goes, get to the other side.
“I’ve never hit one,” Hanel said, “but I do see them when I’m out running. I love seeing them, and I think it’s a treasure to have them.”
Despite anecdotal reports that area bobcats have apparently been enjoying their Thanksgiving feast a few weeks early, Helen Carlson Cummings, a longtime National Audubon Society turkey watcher and educator who lives in the neighborhood, said that she spotted five toms in her yard Wednesday morning. One of them was crippled, she said, but it wasn’t clear if he’d been struck by a vehicle.
During the autumn months, toms and hens lead segregated lives, she said.
“At this time of year they split up,” she said. “They’ll get together again in spring.”
“They are not dumb — in fact, they’re very intelligent,” she said. “But when they’re looking for food, they kind of ignore everything else.”
That single-mindedness can lead to potential turkey/vehicle conflicts.
A group of turkeys nest near Carlson Cummings’ home, she said, and she watches them coming down Virginia Lane over to her neighbor’s home.
“In the evening they jump up on the fence and into the neighbor’s big evergreen to spend the night,” she said. “They all came down (Wednesday) morning and jumped into his yard.”
A turkey watcher for at least 25 years, Carlson Cummings said she still has pieces of eggshell from the first time she witnessed chicks emerging. The hen proudly announced each arrival to anyone who’d listen.
“When they started to hatch, I could hear a funny sound. It was like she was telling me her babies were hatching,” Carlson Cummings said. “I was pretty close, and I still remember those funny sounds she would make.”
She said she hadn’t heard stories of recent turkey predation, but said she welcomed the placement of the new signs.
“The turkeys sometimes stop cars. They get out in front of cars and just stand there, looking at people,” she said. “They were probably hatched around here, and this is their home.”