The Hillebert's Sweet Tweet
By Jon Lewis
Photos courtesy of the Hillebert family
For most folks who call the North State home, November is turkey time. Images of the colorful, gawky birds are abundant during the fall and, of course, turkey is the traditional centerpiece on the Thanksgiving table.
For the Hilleberts, every month is turkey time—thanks to Sweet Tweet, a wild turkey who adopted the Millville family last year.
Sweet Tweet, who also goes by Big Bird and Teet Teet, is a tom, and he’s got the somewhat grotesque multi-colored head and wattle—along with the radiant tail feathers—to prove it.
He’s also got the attitude, according to Laurelie Hillebert, who says one need only watch Sweet Tweet in the spring, when he shows off for every gal he sees. Sweet Tweet, it appears, has convinced himself he’s a human.
His confusion can be traced back to the spring of 2012, when Dave Hillebert was mowing for fire protection on the family’s 10 acres. During one pass, a hen turkey flew off to reveal a nest of eggs that was now vulnerable to the weather and predators.
Worried that the turkey had abandoned her nest, Laurelie took an egg and positioned it under a lamp in the hopes her children would get to watch it hatch. Lo and behold, Sweet Tweet emerged.
Only Sweet Tweet himself can say whether he bonded with people—for the time being, his official comments consist of gobbles—but it’s clear he enjoys his surroundings enough to hang around.
Dawson, 7, and Liana, 10, are happy to have his company. Charlie, the big, friendly golden retriever, doesn’t seem to care either way.
As an adolescent, Sweet Tweet followed the kids wherever they went. If he found something shiny or otherwise interesting, he’d swipe it and run away. Needless to say, that particular trick proved to be problematic when he started grabbing scavenger game clues and running away.
The turkey developed an interest in sports, too. When one of the kids bounces a red ball his way, he’ll kick it back like a prehistoric soccer player. Sometimes he’ll assume a more defensive posture and peck at the ball.
As a young adult, however, he elevated his game a notch and began attempting to dominate other males. Dawson had to arm himself with a squirt gun and use it to maintain a sense of order in the yard. Dave Hillebert simply uses a garden hose to remind Sweet Tweet where he actually belongs in the pecking order.
During the day, Sweet Tweet opts to kibitz with the Hilleberts’ chickens inside a fenced fruit orchard. In the evenings, he alternates between roosting in a tree or on the roof of the Hillebert home. In the mornings, he’s usually standing on the patio, next to Charlie, and watching as the family gathers for breakfast.
Sweet Tweet’s presence also was felt when Liana turned 10 and her parents celebrated her birthday with a turkey-themed party, including turkey-decorated cupcakes, a turkey tablecloth and a turkey vegetable platter.
Luckily for Sweet Tweet, there’s no chance of him actually joining the family for a holiday meal this month since the Hilleberts are vegetarians. •