SAUGANASH — Why did the turkey cross the road? To get to the other side.
That’s according to Sauganash resident Tracy Seglin, who saw a wild turkey crossing the street at Peterson and Kostner avenues Saturday evening while driving in the neighborhood with her husband.
“It made it to the median with no cars [hitting] it,” said Seglin, whose husband was turning left onto Peterson. “The turkey waited for us to go. It seemed to understand traffic.”
Seglin said the sight was hilarious and unexpected, and while she’s seen other big birds roaming freely in the neighborhood, she’s never seen a wild turkey.
She’s not alone. A wild turkey seems to have captivated Northwest Side neighbors who have reported sightings from over the weekend in Forest Glen, Sauganash and Six Corners, attracting new and longtime birdwatchers, in part due to the restoration efforts of local forest preserves and the nice weather.
On Saturday, Jefferson Park birder Bob Dolgan saw a small wild turkey at LaBagh Woods, which he said was “a big deal” and proof biodiversity is improving around Northwest Side forest preserves.
People in Jackson Park also reported wild turkey sightings Saturday and Friday, according to data from eBird, a citizen birdwatching site.
It’s difficult to say if the sightings are of the same turkey. But Dolgan theorizes it is the same bird because of its flight patterns and because it’s female, based on its size and characteristics.
“My guess would be it is the same bird, but there likely isn’t a way to verify it,” Dolgan said. “Females don’t have the wattles or ‘beards’ that males do.”
Musician Dana Maragos, who lives in Sauganash, said she was at her kitchen sink Saturday afternoon when she looked out the window and saw a big wild turkey perched outside.
“I could not believe my eyes,” Maragos said. “It was the most amazing thing to see. She was perched on the fence and her whole tail fanned her feathers.”
Maragos said the bird flew to the neighbor’s yard and perched on the fence there for at least 45 minutes, looking content and preening.
Maragos doesn’t call herself a birder, but she now plans to spend more time birdwatching in the community and looking for the turkey in case it returns, as it seems to enjoy the area, she said. She hopes the sighting means bigger birds will come to the area and wants folks to be aware of it — and the importance of preserving the community’s biodiversity.
In recent years, Northwest Side forest preserves have seen more wildlife, partly due to volunteers who have worked to restore its natural habitat. LaBagh Woods is known as a haven for birds and birders alike.
Wild turkeys are rare nowadays but live in every Illinois county, according to the Illinois Department of National Resources, although the nonmigratory bird is most commonly found downstate and in counties to the west and northwest.
Chris Anchor, a senior wildlife biologist with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, previously told Block Club the county has periodically seen wild turkeys show up in the past two decades after people who kept them as pets released them into the wild. But because the Department of Natural Resources did not release turkeys into northern Illinois, their population in Cook and DuPage is too low to record.
“We do not have a reproducing, truly wild, wild turkey population in Cook County,” Anchor said. “The nearest wild birds are in Will County and Lake County.”
Northwest Side neighbors wonder if that could change after recent wild turkey sightings that have also been reported in the near north suburbs. On Wednesday, someone reached out to Dolgan to say a turkey was seen in Park Ridge crossing a street. One was spotted in Evanston earlier this week, according to social media posts.
“My brother [thought] somebody must be raising turkeys — but maybe they’re making a comeback,” Maragos said.
Maragos said she heard about other turkey sightings around the area and thinks the birds could be finding a new home in northern Illinois, thanks to forest preservation and the growing abundance of wildlife. The musician is working on an EP and said she might write a turkey song to record her sighting experience.
Dolgan, who has been birdwatching for more than 35 years, said the pandemic and restoration efforts open up the possibilities for new birdwatchers like Maragos to join in on the hobby.
“The pandemic has seen interest in birds increase generally, and LaBagh and other preserves likely have seen record visitor levels,” he said. “The proximity of a site like that means more herons, hawks and owls are viewable in nearby Northwest Side neighborhoods, too.”
Seglin said she isn’t sure if the wild turkey’s presence is a direct result of preservation work, but the experience was memorable nonetheless.
“I don’t know I would attribute that to LaBagh Woods, but we are lucky this wild turkey graced us with its presence,” she said.
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