Resur­gent tur­keys clash with hu­mans

Res­i­dents of many U.S. states face sub­ur­ban at­tacks from wild birds

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Collin Bink­ley

Not ev­ery­one is cel­e­brat­ing the re­turn of the wild tur­keys.

Af­ter be­ing wiped out from New Eng­land in the 1800s, the birds have stormed back in what’s con­sid­ered a ma­jor suc­cess story for wildlife restora­tion. But as they spread far­ther into ur­ban ar­eas, they’re in­creas­ingly clash­ing with res­i­dents who say they de­stroy gar­dens, dam­age cars, chase pets and at­tack peo­ple.

Com­plaints about trou­ble­some tur­keys have surged in Bos­ton and its sub­urbs over the past three years, caus­ing headaches for po­lice and health of­fi­cials called to han­dle prob­lems, ac­cord­ing to city and town records pro­vided to The As­so­ci­ated Press. It’s a fa­mil­iar dilemma for some other U.S. towns from coast to coast that have been over­run by tur­keys in re­cent years.

Bos­ton city of­fi­cials say they re­ceived at least 60 com­plaints last year, a three­fold in­crease over the year be­fore. Nearby Somerville, Bel­mont and Brook­line have seen sim­i­lar upticks, com­bin­ing for a to­tal of 137 turkey gripes since the start of last year.

“Sev­eral years ago it was more of an iso­lated sit­u­a­tion here and there,” said David Scarpitti, the wild turkey and up­land game bi­ol­o­gist for the Mas­sachusetts Di­vi­sion of Fish­eries and Wildlife. “Now it’s start­ing to spread into com­mu­ni­ties all around Bos­ton.”

Often the griev­ance is lit­tle more than a way­ward turkey block­ing traf­fic, but in at least five cases tur­keys be­came so ag­gres­sive that po­lice said they had to shoot them as a mat­ter of pub­lic safety. Some area res­i­dents have suf­fered mi­nor in­juries from the birds, in­clud­ing a 72-year-old woman who told po­lice she was bruised in Au­gust af­ter a gang of tur­keys scratched and pecked her dur­ing a walk.

Tur­keys in the wild are far stronger and faster than the ones that land on Thanks­giv­ing ta­bles, ex­perts say. Males in par­tic­u­lar are driven to show phys­i­cal ag­gres­sion as a way to climb the so­cial peck­ing or­der, and they some­times view hu­mans as po­ten­tial com­peti­tors.

“Tur­keys don’t re­ally mean to harm peo­ple – it’s just tied to their so­cial dy­nam­ics within the flock,” Scarpitti said. “They lose per­spec­tive that hu­mans are hu­mans and tur­keys are tur­keys. They just want to as­sert dom­i­nance over any­thing.”

Even the ear­li­est Amer­i­cans picked up on that char­ac­ter­is­tic, with Ben Franklin fa­mously writ­ing that the turkey is a “Bird of Courage, and would not hes­i­tate to at­tack a Gre­nadier of the Bri­tish Guards who should pre­sume to in­vade his Farm Yard with a red coat on.”

In the town of Brook­line, Tess Bundy has come to loathe the tur­keys that roost be­hind her home and often come charg­ing when she leaves. She called po­lice in April af­ter a big tom re­peat­edly launched it­self at her and her in­fant daugh­ter, back­ing down only af­ter Bundy whacked it sev­eral times with a shovel.

“They’re ter­ri­ble. Ev­ery year they’re worse,” said Bundy, a his­tory pro­fes­sor at Mer­ri­mack Col­lege. “I re­ally do think that they’re a men­ace to the town.”

The com­plaints have sent some cities search­ing for an­swers, in­clud­ing in Cam­bridge, where the city coun­cil says it’s work­ing on a plan.

Of­fi­cials in Brook­line is­sued new guid­ance for fowl en­coun­ters this Au­gust, telling res­i­dents they should “step to­ward the turkey and act con­fi­dently.”

Wildlife ex­perts say much of the prob­lem can be blamed on res­i­dents who leave out food for tur­keys, which en­tices flocks to set­tle in and helps them sur­vive win­ters.

Towns with sim­i­lar prob­lems in New Jersey, Iowa and Ore­gon have banned turkey feed­ing in re­cent years, and Mon­tana en­acted a sim­i­lar statewide ban in May. But the idea hasn’t spread to the Bos­ton area, where some res­i­dents say they en­joy the re­turn of na­tive wildlife.

Not far from two sites where tur­keys were shot by po­lice, Brook­line res­i­dent Suzette Ab­bott says she’s had no prob­lems with the tur­keys that roam her block.

“I don’t think they’re dan­ger­ous,” Ab­bott said. “In the spring they look pretty amaz­ing when the males are dis­play­ing their colors. I think they’re quite beau­ti­ful if you ac­tu­ally look at their feathers.”

Tur­keys in the wild are far stronger and faster than the ones that land on Thanks­giv­ing ta­bles, ex­perts say.

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