Has Beisswenger’s in New Brighton gone to the birds?

Bessie waits to greet morning customers at Beisswenger’s Hardware and Garden Store in New Brighton. The store’s staff has cared for the wild turkey since she arrived underweight and injured over a month ago. (Joshua Nielsen/Bulletin)

A feathered friend has taken up residence outside the store

When a wild turkey first showed up at Beisswenger’s Hardware and Garden Store on Old Highway 8 in New Brighton over a month ago, store employees felt sorry for the underweight animal that had become estranged from its rafter and was suffering from a chest wound.

Store employee Dawn Tereau christened the hen “Bessie” and she and other staff members began nursing her back to health. Her wound has since healed and she has returned to a healthy weight from all the cracked corn and sunflower seeds she has been fed.

It appears Bessie may be trying to pay back the staff of Beisswenger’s for their hospitality.  Storeowner Mark Beisswenger says Bessie has taken it upon herself to volunteer as the store greeter. During open hours, Bessie can be seen pacing back and forth in front of the store’s doors waiting for customers to arrive and will often stop a few feet from them as they approach, as if to say: “Hello, welcome to Beisswenger’s, bird seed is in aisle six.” 

“We sell a lot of birdseed and have over 2,000 bird feeders. I think they’re finding out that this place is ‘for the birds,’” Beisswenger says with a laugh.

Wild turkeys have a reputation for being ornery, but Tereau says this is not the case with Bessie. She doesn’t chase people and will usually let people get within a couple of feet of her to snap a quick photo.

Much of the day, when she’s not greeting customers, Bessie moves to wherever the sun is shining and to where she can get the best protection from fierce winter winds. Tereau says the bird often takes shelter behind the large bags of water softener near the store’s entrance or behind the large propane tanks. And at night she roosts on top of the greenhouse racking in a corner where a heater blasts against the glass.

While Beisswenger admits Bessie makes a bit of a mess -- Tereau has been cleaning up the abundant droppings -- he says that, overall, she has not been much of a nuisance. However, Beisswenger has had to disable the automatic doors to prevent her from running in, and says Bessie will occasionally peck at car tires and store windows, presumably to get at the salt residue left on those surfaces. She has not, however, exhibited any aggression toward people, Beisswenger notes.

Here to stay?

Most of the store’s regulars are familiar with the bird that has become Beisswenger’s unofficial mascot. During checkout, several customers ask: “where’s Bessie today?” Tereau can usually pinpoint the bird’s location based on the time of day. 

Beisswenger is hopeful that Bessie will rejoin her flock this spring if they return. He says a group of eight to ten turkeys gathered around the store for a few days last summer, but have not been seen since. Only Bessie returned.

“I guess she thought she had it better here,” Beisswenger joked.

Tereau says she initially thought about asking the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for help, but was told by an emergency veterinarian she contacted that they would do nothing for the animal.

She was told if she could manage to grab the bird, she could bring it to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville, where staff could rehabilitate the animal and later release it back into the wild. The prospect of grabbing a wild three-foot-tall bird with a pointed beak and sharp talons was unappealing to Tereau.

The veterinarian said wild turkeys generally heal much quicker than most domesticated animals as long as a wound is not too serious. Tereau and other Beisswenger staff decided to care for the animal themselves, and the gamble paid off.

“She actually looks a lot better now,” Beisswenger admits.

The staff has become somewhat attached to Bessie, but want to see her return to the wild by spring.

“I hope she finds where she needs to be,” Tereau says. “I think right now, she just stays here because of the food.”

Like Tereau, Beisswenger is hopeful that Bessie will be strong enough to move on when the heavy snow pack melts this spring and there is more abundant food for the bird to survive on.

“If not, we’re priming her up for our Weber Grill demonstration this spring,” he quips.

In the meantime, customers who stop by Beisswenger’s to pick up a new hammer, power drill or for a window repair have a fair shot of being greeted by the store’s new unofficial mascot.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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