Tracking app helps fans keep tabs on transient turkey

Professor Lynn Moorman employs citizen science to map Turk’s movements

Photo of Professor Lynn Moorman.

Lynn Moorman has mapped Turk’s visits to 18 communities and counting ranging from Eau Claire and the Beltline to Kensington and Crescent Heights.

As a wild bird captivates the neighbourhood of Ramsay and areas beyond, a Mount Royal University geography professor is helping devoted fans keep track of the transient turkey.

Sightings of the bird, dubbed Turk, began in Ramsay in the spring of 2019 after he escaped from an agricultural event at the Stampede Grounds.

Now a full-grown tom, Turk has spread his wings, so to speak, visiting neighbourhoods nearby and becoming a media sensation. Lynn Moorman, PhD, professor of geography in MRU’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, in cooperation with Ramsay resident Avery Maxwell, has developed an app called TurkTracker to map those movements.

“I saw a lot of social media posts with photos of Turk, people exclaiming how much he travelled, and speculating as to past and future routes,” says Moorman.

By mining those posts, Moorman first mapped Turk’s visits to 18 communities and counting ranging from Eau Claire and the Beltline to Kensington and Crescent Heights. Then she considered the citizen science potential of having observers submit their own turkey sighting data.

“My mapping brain thought this would be a great project to collect time and location information about sightings and see what kind of turkey tracking we could do. While I could just mine the social media data, I thought it would be a fun way to get Calgarians engaged in a mapping project while increasing awareness about Turk. The real-time data may also help the Calgary Police Service with predicting where calls of concern will be coming from and locations of potential traffic disruptions as Turk occasionally crosses roads.”

Maxwell, who administers the popular Loyal Followers of the Ramsay Turkey Facebook page (currently with more than 6,000 members), urges people to treat Turk as a wild bird not in need of rescue or relocation and to not feed him. She hopes the app helps keep him safe while allowing people to see his routes.

“When the Facebook group started out it was quite small, and with mostly Ramsay residents. We all cared deeply about his well being and made sure to look after him within the neighbourhood. He became a community fixture,” says Maxwell.

“Each time the media took an interest in Turk we would see a spike in group numbers. At the beginning of March of this year we had around 1,200 members. After Turk decided to meander out of Ramsay into the downtown core more people took notice.” When Turk went on the lam and eluded police efforts to corral and return him to Ramsay, “his notoriety throughout the city and across Canada skyrocketed.”

Using the Turk Tracker, anyone who has seen Turk in the past, or present, can share the location, time and date of their sighting, along with photos, to populate a web map. Sharing this data will provide a window into how he is moving about, his routes and where he likes to hang out. Wild turkeys can cover up to three kilometres a day over a range of up to 5.5 square kilometres. The idea is the app will give some structure to the sightings and posts on social media that can lead to people flocking to Turk’s location and unintentionally curbing his freedom.

Photo of Turk the turkey.

Now a full-grown tom, Turk has spread his wings, so to speak, visiting neighbourhoods nearby and becoming a media sensation.

Tracking the turkey also lends itself to teaching opportunities well beyond citizen science and mapping technologies, says Moorman. These include thinking about the geographic component of a problem and applying spatial solutions.

“The turkey is a fun example, but the topic could easily be health care concerns (cases of a virus, for example) or safety observations ― the process is the same. Students can also learn how to analyze data, from creating heat maps that visualize frequency of observation or activity, to identifying geographic or temporal trends and patterns of movement, and determining routes ― the same as would be expected in a business supply chain analysis or investigation of migration of wildlife or displaced people.”

The project also explores how to translate data into an effective communication tool, a growing need in an information economy and a particular focus for information design students. There is also a data management aspect, which is integral to hands-on learning.

“All of this is key to spatial data science, an exciting field that is growing in all sectors of business and government,” Moorman says. “Students who have some of this knowledge and skill will be well positioned to make valuable contributions in their fields.”

The tracker is being used by some teachers and parents as part of home schooling during the COVID-19 isolation period, Moorman says, “so K-12 students are learning about mapping and about Calgary communities while exploring Turk's travels.”

Maxwell has given Turk’s popularity a lot of thought and believes it comes down to human nature and the appeal of a freedom-loving underdog … or bird.

“I think people care for Turk for several reasons. He's a loner and a bit of an underdog, and yet he's managed to thrive and persevere, so he's inspiring in a really fun way; he's a fascinating anomaly ― it's not every day that you encounter a large, wild turkey, and a surprisingly beautiful one, in an inner-city neighbourhood.

“His story involves a bit of mystique: Where did he come from? Where is he going next? Why is he so confident? We also might just be a bit jealous of his freedom and perhaps we're living a bit vicariously through his adventures.”

The survey and mapping are done with Esri's ArcGIS Survey 123, StoryMaps, and ArcGIS Online.

For further information please contact Lynn Moorman at Mount Royal University.


Twitter: @geocogito

Instagram: @lynncangeo


Learn more about Mount Royal University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

June 1, 2020 — Peter Glenn

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