My husband, Scott, and I were standing at one end of a narrow—and feeble—wooden suspension bridge, stretched high across a deep ravine in the rainforest of Dunk Island, a tranquil, virtually deserted oasis off Australia’s east coast, near the Great Barrier Reef. In order to go deeper into the forest, and continue admiring the native flora, fauna, birds and butterflies, we would have to cross it.
“Don’t even think about chickening out now,” Scott said, making his way across. “We’re continuing on this walk and that means you’re crossing the bridge.”
I stared at the ground, tracing circles in the dirt with my sandals and ignoring Scott’s taunting “chicken” squawks. As I considered my next move, I heard footsteps in the brush behind me. Not adult-size steps, I thought. Possibly not even human steps, I realized, turning slowly around. Much to my surprise, I found myself face-to-face with the biggest wild turkey ever to walk the earth. Nearly three feet (90 cm) tall, covered in black feathers, and sporting a vibrant red wattle, the bird stared me down, angry that I was in its path.
“Nik, are you coming or what?” Scott yelled from his halfway point on the bridge.
“Yeah,” I called back, my voice wavering slightly. I backed cautiously away from the turkey. But it decided I wasn’t moving quickly enough, let out a loud screech, flapped its wings, and started toward me.
“OKOKOK!” I shrieked, sprinting toward and across the bridge in seconds flat.
Scott, waiting for me on the other side, burst out laughing. We both looked across the bridge and watched as the turkey paced at the other end, tossing us an occasional disgusted glance.
“I think it wants to cross,” Scott said. “Let’s move out of its line of sight so it’s not so scared. I bet it’ll cross if it can’t see us.”
We ducked behind a nearby tree and poked our heads around the trunk to watch the turkey. It continued to pace, still glancing in our direction from time to time. Then it seemed convinced we had left and placed one scrawny red foot, then the other, onto the bridge. As it sauntered along the wooden slats, it developed quite a rhythm, its scraggly neck bopping to and fro, punctuated by an occasional “gobble.”
I found the whole scene unbelievably funny and started to snicker. “Why did the turkey cross the suspension bridge?” I whispered as Scott delivered a swift “shut-up” nudge to my ribs.
The bird, suddenly aware that it was not alone—or extremely self-conscious about being laughed at—halted mid-bridge and stood completely still. I held my breath in attempt to restrain myself from laughing, but a few nasal snorts escaped, and the bird began to look distressed. Scott nudged me again, this time much harder, and silenced me with a schoolmarm’s glare. After a few seconds, I managed to stifle my giggles long enough for the turkey to decide the coast was clear and complete its journey.
As it stepped off the bridge, standing—unbeknownst to itself—just a few feet from us, the bird stopped to ruffle its feathers, seemingly proud that it had made it unscathed. Then it proceeded into the rainforest and out of our sight.
“That was awesome!” I exclaimed, jumping up and down.
“Yeah,” Scott agreed. “And you told me to leave the camera in the room. ‘Oh, we won’t see anything interesting—it’s just a bunch of trees and dirt,’” he mimicked.
“Well, I’m sorry,” I replied. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the familiar black feathers and shock of red skin. Another turkey, poised at the opposite end of the bridge. It wanted to cross. I grabbed Scott’s arm.
“Look,” I announced, pointing to the bird. “I think it’s following the other one. Maybe they have a date or something.”
I saw the twinkle in Scott’s eye and could almost hear the gears grinding in his head.
“You stay here with the bird. I’m going back to get the camera.”
“Oh, yeah, I like this idea….” I began.
“Just make sure the bird doesn’t cross and doesn’t leave,” he said, moving back across the bridge slowly so as not to startle the turkey. I watched as the bird shuffled swiftly back into the foliage as Scott made his way past it.
It was just me and the bird. And the bridge.
I took a deep breath and strolled across, flipping out over every creak and sway and letting my imagination get the better of me. What if it collapsed right then and there? Would I die? Were there rats in the ravine? What would the bird do? Were there turkeys vultures?
As I stepped off the bridge, I exhaled with relief, then re-focused my energy on the turkey. I spotted it grooming itself on a log about 10 feet (3 m) away. It kept one eye on me as it poked its beak over and under its right wing, fluffing and re-arranging feathers.
“Pretty hot date tonight, huh?” I asked it.
The bird stopped in mid-groom and stared at me.
“Please don’t eat me,” I pleaded. “We just want to take your picture crossing the bridge. It’s really not a crime. I promise not to sell your photo to Butterball.”
The turkey continued to primp while keeping an ever-watchful eye on me. I gazed in the direction of the resort, hoping I might see Scott on his way back with the camera, then turned back to the bird.
“I saw your boyfriend—or girlfriend…I don’t really know how to tell if you’re male or female—crossing the bridge earlier,” I informed it.
This seemed to intrigue the turkey and it hopped down from the log.
“OK, now, don’t get alarmed,” I said, moving toward the bridge in order to prevent the bird from crossing.
It seemed to perceive this as a threat, spread its wings full-span, and started squealing. I was fully expecting that I would soon be either mauled or devoured when Scott emerged from the trees, camera in hand.
“Oh good, it’s still here,” he said.
“Yeah, this was a brilliant plan—this thing is moments from seeking Thanksgiving revenge on me,” I said, moving out of the turkey’s way.
“They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia the way we do in the U.S.,” Scott reminded me.
“I think he has an informant,” I replied as we walked several yards away from the bird to give it the sense of privacy and security its kind supposedly required for suspension bridge-crossing. Positioning ourselves behind a row of bushes, we watched and waited.
The turkey groomed itself a little more, then decided to traipse down, then up the ravine to cross to the other side. We watched as it disappeared into the woods. So much for our amazing photo op.
“What was that all about?” Scott asked, incredulous and disappointed. “Why didn’t it go across the bridge?”
I shrugged and concluded, “I guess it was chicken.”
If You Go