'Call him a Latin lover': Fernando the therapy turkey made for flirting, not for eating
Friendly fowl at Manitoba animal rescue welcomes visitors with his 'circle of love'
Shannon McNamara was always a cat person. That changed a few years ago, when she went with some friends to visit a hobby farm in Anola, Man.
That's where she met Fernando.
"He's just an amazing guy," she said.
"I guess you can call him a Latin lover. He's very, very social, he likes lots of attention, and he's quite original."
He was, in fact, a first for McNamara.
"I've never come across a turkey before," she said.
Fernando is no ordinary turkey — he's a therapy animal who lives at The 10 Acre Woods, a petting farm and animal rescue in Anola, a small Manitoba community about 40 kilometres east of Winnipeg.
McNamara says she tries to visit him once a week, because it relaxes her.
"By the time you go home, the stress is gone away. It's perfect."
Fernando, who seems to prefer getting friendly with humans rather than his fellow fowl, has his own way of flirting with visitors. The imposing bird will walk in a circle around his target, trying to get their attention.
Tara McKean, the co-owner of The 10 Acre Woods, calls it his "circle of love."
But that's when the fickle bird begins his own version of playing hard to get.
Just as you lean in to touch him, Fernando will move away, urging you to come get him.
The farm has even created T-shirts that read "Flirt Like Fernando," in honour of the amorous turkey.
So how do you pet a turkey?
McNamara likes to run her hand down the length of his brown feathers, or gently pat his soft, warm head.
However, McKean offers a half-joking word of caution regarding a certain danger zone.
"Just don't touch his belly," she said. "If you touch his belly, you're going to need to get a room. Because he likes that."
On her fourth visit to 10 Acre Woods, McNamara started to notice a change in Fernando's appearance.
While during her initial visits, his face was just red — indicating calmness — she soon saw it change to bright blue, followed by white.
Those colour changes in a turkey's skin are an indicator of excitement.
"You can see how he is, and sense his mood and stuff like that," McNamara said. "It's very interesting."
Animals 'saved my life': co-owner
Fernando came to The 10 Acre Woods about four years ago, when an acquaintance of the McKeans was attempting to raise turkeys one winter.
She soon realized she was unprepared to take care of them, and reached out to Tara and her husband, Mark.
Fernando now happily resides among a family of barnyard animals, including pigs, ducks, alpacas, sheep and goats.
The 10 Acre Woods was born out of a passion that McKean has had since she was two years old and rescued her first chipmunk.
"My parents weren't too happy about that," she recalls with a laugh.
In her teens, though, McKean went through a difficult time — including a period when she felt suicidal, and would run away to Aunt Sally's Farm, a petting zoo once located in Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo. Staff let her in the back door and had her help tend to the animals.
"[The animals] saved my life. So if I can give back to them by helping them, then that's why I do what I do."
The rural Manitoba version of Dr. Doolittle admits the animals on the farm are like her children, and they seem to agree. When she hollers "kids!" they all come running in her direction.
The farm also hosts activities such as youth outdoor education, wool-spinning classes and goat yoga.
Sheldon, another of the animals in care at 10 Acre Woods, is described by Tara McKean as a "happy-go-lucky" goat. He can often be found right at her side, close to his mother figure.
According to McKean, Sheldon has special needs, and it took two months to get him to walk.
Now, "he has touched so many people that had issues and were giving up."
A visit to the legislature
Fernando, meanwhile, has made connections both on and off the farm, including making special appearances at seniors homes and corporate events.
His owners lift him into the farm truck since he can't hop in himself (he is, after all, a turkey). From that point on, he hits the open highway to spread his love.
Fernando has even gobbled from atop the marble staircase inside the Manitoba Legislative Building.
In May 2018, the province proclaimed its first annual Service and Animal Therapy Day — and invited Fernando to the legislature to mark the event.
"He owned the stairs going up," said McKean. "He owned the marble floor. He was walking around, making his rounds, and he … loved being there."
When The 10 Acre Woods hosts events, such as weddings, Fernando is typically the life of the party.
"When the music starts and the dance floor's going, he's on the dance floor," said McKean.
Once, the gregarious turkey even tagged alongside a bride as she prepared to say "I do."
"He followed her right up, right through the aisle, and was there the whole time she got married."
During CBC's visit to 10 Acre Woods, Fernando displayed his love of attention (and the camera). Wherever CBC photographer Warren Kay went, Fernando was in front of him, striking a pose.
It was only when Kay was on the other side of the fence to photograph the other animals that Fernando took a break, relaxing his puffed-up his feathers and sipping from a water bowl — like a movie star stepping out of character between takes.
And with another Thanksgiving here, Fernando will continue to do what he does best — entertain, and flirt with, the autumn visitors.
When CBC Manitoba created a form for our audience to pitch your stories, Shannon McNamara reached out to share her story about Fernando.
Do you have a story you'd like to share? Just click here to pitch a story.