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Battery Park's Resident Turkey Enjoys Quiet Thanksgiving

By Jill Colvin | November 24, 2011 1:38pm
Zelda the Turkey hangs out in the shade.
Zelda the Turkey hangs out in the shade.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

DOWNTOWN — At least one turkey in the city doesn't have to worry about making it onto a Thanksgiving plate.

Zelda, Manhattan's resident wild turkey, spent her Thanksgiving morning lazily munching on bird seeds in Battery Park, where she's lived for the past eight years, thrilling tourists, entertaining park staff and enduring one too many Thanksgiving jokes.

"She does not appreciate cranberry and gravy jokes,” said Pat Kirshner, director of operations and planning at the Battery Conservancy, which helps care for Zelda.

Staff aren’t quite sure where the turkey came from. She first appeared in 2003, when the Gardens of Remembrance was planted in honor of 9/11, and she's been there ever since.

While the average turkey rarely lives past six years (that is, if it doesn't end up served alongside stuffing), Zelda, whose age is unknown, is already older than that, making it safe to assume she's likely getting near the end of her life.

And it's beginning to show.

While Zelda's thick feathers are still a deep brown, her head and feet have grayed. She now waddles slowly through the park, picking for worms and dozing in the shade of the playground, hiding under benches and jungle gym slides.  Zelda has laid eggs, but she’s never had any turkey boyfriends or baby chicks.

"She's sticking a little closer to home these days," Kirshner said. "She's really old for a turkey. She's slowing down. She's not looking quite as shiny as she has in the past."

For passerby who don't know about Zelda, her presence is quite a sight — especially on Thanksgiving Day.

"That's wild!" said Ben Yetman, 32, who spotted the feathered creature while walking his dog, a Border terrier named Don Julio, Thursday morning.

"I thought she escaped from someone's table!" he joked, adding that he didn't think she had much to worry about from hungry parks-goers who might be thinking she would look better on a plate.

"She survived for seven of these, so I think she's pretty skilled," he said.

Rich San and Joy Lapid, visiting from Virginia, were just as surprised to spot the turkey while they were hunting for a view of the Statue of Liberty. But as they tried to snap a photo, Zelda started ambling toward them, sending them running.

"I've never really seen a turkey. I didn't know what it was!" said San.

Park staff said that Zelda, who has a turkey-shaped farm in the park designed in her honor, sleeps in a nest in a tree near the playground, high above the park and usually comes down around 6:30 or 7 a.m. She spends her days foraging for food and exploring, especially near a new carousel being built near the Staten Island Ferry terminal entrance.

Zelda was named after the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was also supposedly found wandering the park after a nervous breakdown.

Chet Heald, a park supervisor who has worked in the park for a year and a half and has come to know Zelda well, said she's generally a friendly turkey and gets along with park visitors, though she gets nervous when people get too close.

"She keeps her distance," said Heald. He and other staffers keep an eye on her, feeding her wild bird seed and making sure flocks of pigeons don't get too close.

"She's just a part of the Parks family," he said.

He especially appreciated having a turkey around while he was working on Thanksgiving Day.

"Let's hope there's one when I get home," he said.

With reporting by Julie Shapiro