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Alfred Hitchcock Had Nothing on These Birds

WHENEVER I see marbles in my driveway, I know that Harold is chasing wild turkeys again. Marbles and a homemade slingshot were his last resort.

He'd tried everything passive; he's very resourceful and Saint Francis-like. In the last years I've watched the fence around his peach and apple orchard rise skyward. He began with white postcard pickets. A beautiful sight it was, especially in April, when the pastel blossoms fluttered down on the young, lime-colored grass. The turkeys laughed. All three dozen. A quick hop and they were in, rototilling the lawn with beak and claw.

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He tried chicken wire. The birds made mockery. They soared over and drop-landed the way F-14s plop onto aircraft-carrier decks.

Determined, he bought thicker wire, 12-foot poles, and framed his orchard like a Siberian gulag. No matter: The indefatigable turkeys hiked out on the overhanging limbs of a nearby oak and twittered down like Normandy paratroops. Of course, once in, the birds couldn't get out. But with all the sprouting vegetables planted by an ultra-confident Harold, why fret? The turkeys were giddy captives inside the Forbidden City.

Harold once tried and failed to spook them with a few .22 caliber rounds. The cops came looking for deer jackers.

I'm not sure, but I think his genius with the slingshot and marbles was inspired by a bit he heard on G. Gordon Liddy's radio show combined with a belief that a bird that large should have a memory to match.

Harold is wondrously thorough. It is illegal to purchase a slingshot in Massachusetts. But a homemade contraption rigged from a stick and a bit of bungee cord is not. When it stays in your own yard and wards off a garden-hacking pest of Old Testament proportions, the device, the act, and the man have the imprimatur of state wildlife officials. He checked.

Harold is a considerate and reasonable neighbor. The wild turkey is not. These Martha's Vineyard wild turkeys, in fact, are not really wild.

They are bold, feral hybrids from West Virginia stock introduced by hobby farmers two decades ago. After landing, the hard-scrabble birds flourished in the sanctuary of Martha's Vineyard's rural theme-park ethos. Benjamin Franklin lobbied to make the wild turkey - once an icon of stealth and courage - our national symbol. But these 20th-century birds seem to exhibit no virtue save dogged persistence.

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If I leave the back door open I find them free-ranging in my living room, pecking at the roots of my favorite Norfolk Island pine. If I had to decide who defiles my lawn with greater efficiency - the turkeys or the kid next door with his all-terrain tank for tots - it's the birds, wings down. Once, after sacking my strawberries, an impudent tom skipped up on my chaise longue to digest his booty in the sun.

Go around Martha's Vineyard and you'll see wild turkeys everywhere: cocksuredly crossing the roads and dodging school buses; pillaging flower beds; patrolling beaches like a herds of omnivorous dinosaurs.

But don't look for them near Harold's orchard anymore. Where once you found turkey droppings, now you find marbles and an occasional feather.

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