If you see turkeys roaming the Seward Highway this spring, remember this: You are not hallucinating.
The turkeys – a wandering band of about four or five – call Indian Valley Meats their home but during the spring mating season often wander farther away. Owner Rania Kukowski said she's had reports that the birds have traveled as far south as Bird Creek, four miles away.
Kukowski doesn't remember the exact breed of the domestic turkeys, but their dark brown feathers and bright red wattles are a surprising sight along Turnagain Arm.
Kukowski said her father, Indian Valley Meats owner Doug Drum, got the turkeys about 10 years ago as pets. Keeping them in pens left them vulnerable to ermines, she said, so her family began letting them out.
"Once they got out, there was no way I was herding those suckers back in pens," she said. "They were like 'no way, we got a taste of freedom here and we are not going back.'"
Kukowski said if she heard from neighbors that they were causing trouble she would try to pen them up, but instead the neighbors seemed to like them, even feeding them on occasion. She said they usually come back to Indian Valley Meats every night.
She said they usually stick close to home, but during mating season the females try to escape the males. That means the birds wander farther from home, meandering down the highway or through the woods in a pack, occasionally gobbling and pecking the ground for food.
She said a few turkeys haven't come back over the years – she suspects dogs or hunters have gotten them.
Alaska Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh said the department has received reports of Turnagain Arm turkeys and other birds as far south as Homer. He said turkeys are not native to Alaska and no record has been found of anyone trying to transplant them.
But Indian Valley Mine owner Arlene Cowles said the turkeys are well known in the small community of Indian.
"I think all the neighborhood loves them," she said. "They just make the rounds."
Kukowski said she occasionally gets calls from people in disbelief about the turkeys. But she wants to assure everyone that the callers are not going crazy.
"They are real turkeys, yes." she said.
And no, she said, the meat company famous for its sausages does not eat or sell the turkeys.