WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — On a day when turkey is the celebrated centerpiece of most feasts, many will be thinking with heavy hearts about Eileen — Washington Township's famous one-legged wild turkey, now missing for nearly six months.
Eileen was once a fixture at the corner where Washington Avenue meets Pascack Road, often seen limping around, pecking at nuts on the ground. In fact, the whereabouts of the fowl, who hobbled into the hearts of township residents, is pure speculation these days.
Did someone take her? It wouldn't be the first time.
Was she gobbled up? Doubtful, one expert said.
Perhaps she's found love and is squatting in the woods.
"She's not around," Ruth Carrino, a Washington Township resident who tended to Eileen, told The Record of Woodland Park (http://bit.ly/SgLL5o). "I saw her in June, maybe. I really feel bad. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I miss her."
Eileen was known as the township's unofficial mascot, and she sparked the community into action on more than one occasion.
Two school girls who felt bad for the disabled bird made turkey cookies last year, hoping to foot Eileen's impending veterinarian bills. But animal experts concluded the leg had been broken for years and healed improperly. The leg had calcified, making it impossible to repair, they said.
Then, Eileen went missing — the victim of a suspected birdnapping. Rewards in the hundreds of dollars were offered for any information that would lead to her safe return.
Days after her disappearance had fueled numerous news reports, representatives from the Raptor Trust, a bird rehabilitation center in Millington, contacted Washington Township police to report the bird had been turned over to their care by two good Samaritans.
Later, a plan to relocate Eileen to the Van Saun Park Zoo in Paramus was abandoned by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Some folks have expressed fear the bird may have been gobbled up by a hungry fox or — gulp — township resident. Carrino doesn't buy that theory, even though New Jersey does allow licensed wild-turkey hunting.
"She survived for years out there with all those threats, so that seems implausible," Carrino said. "I have heard other people claim a woman took her. But I don't know what happened."
Other theories have Eileen keeping company with a gentleman turkey in some love nest, deeper into the thick of the woods near her former stomping grounds.
"When I last saw her, she was with a male turkey," Carrino explained. "They were hanging out together near the Jewish Community Center, and we maybe think she had chicks."
Carrino said she often wondered whether Eileen could produce offspring because of her disability.
"A guy I know in town who works with the Department of Public Works said he'd seen her with a chick two years ago," Carrino said. "But who knows?"
Eileen may be missing in action, but Carrino believes the bird — known for taking long sojourns — will be back. Some years ago, Eileen lived for a year on Carrino's land, and then, vanished.
"She just left for two years before coming back," Carrino said, adding there have been Eileen sightings nearby in Paramus. "She still has her wildness about her. I just hope she's safe. I think about her every day, and I still look for her when I drive around town."