Wild turkey patient at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine has reason for gratitude

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Thanksgiving can be a dangerous time for turkeys, but a wild turkey has a lot to thank for.

The female turkey, seriously injured after being attacked by a dog, is now recovering at the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital in Cornell. The wild bird is expected to recover fully and eventually be released back into the wild.

The turkey was found by a member of the public in early November and taken to a licensed wildlife keeper in Chadwicks, New York, who then sent the turkey to the wildlife hospital.

When the Clinical Team at the Wildlife Hospital examined them, they found severe wounds on and around one of their legs that required intensive surgical and medical treatment.

“She had many wounds all over her body, but the life-threatening wounds were on her left side,” said Service Chief Dr. Sara Childs-Sanford. “She has had three surgeries so far to remove non-viable tissue and to close parts of the wounds that are both deep and wide.

“Tissues are kept clean and protected with large bandages (which the turkey likes to try to remove), and deep tissue infections are treated with antibiotics based on information from bacterial cultures.”

The injured turkey remained strong despite the trauma. “She handled the treatment very well,” said Childs-Sanford. The clinic team gives the turkey pain relievers to make her feel good.

“We have to treat her twice a day so we’re lucky that she’s easy to work with,” said Childs-Sanford. “She kept a great appetite throughout her stay and, in addition to her normal diet, she occasionally likes fruit salads, especially watermelon.”

When her wound heals, she will return to the original wildlife clinic to regrow all of her feathers and get used to a larger area and outside temperatures, Childs-Sanford said.

“When she is ready, she will be released to a suitable habitat close to where she came from, where the presence of turkey flocks has been confirmed to join,” she said.

Wild turkeys eat nuts, buds, and seeds, as well as insects and other small animals, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. While they spend most of their time on the ground, the birds can fly and often sleep in the treetops at night. Females like this patient build nests on the ground and raise their broods of four to 17 chicks without the help of the males. The chicks travel in a family group with their mother and often associate with other groups of chicks and mothers.

European explorers originally brought wild turkeys from Mexico to North America in the early 16th century, where the indigenous people had domesticated the animals centuries earlier. Wild turkeys, a favorite on American dining tables, became rare in the early 20th century.

However, with the transport of wild birds to new areas and the establishment of populations in 49 states, the world population has grown to 7.8 million – an unprecedented success story in game management. The birds are popular with hunters, after the deer the most sought-after wild animal in the country.

“We’re so grateful that Cornell is here every year to help thousands of wildlife in need, just like this turkey,” said Childs-Sanford. “We hope every Thanksgiving holiday is full of joy and gratitude.