Wild turkeys have been pestering residents just outside of Boston. This one was wandering in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood.
Thanksgiving is not good news for turkeys. But lately, some turkeys are fighting back. After being hunted almost out of existence more than 100 years ago, wild turkey populations are on the rise. In the Northeast and Midwest, a lot more of these large — and at times, ornery — birds are setting up their roosts in suburban backyards.
Roberta Schnoor, a resident of Brookline, Mass., says she first started seeing the turkeys in her neighborhood outside of Boston a few years ago. Initially, she just noticed one large male turkey — a tom. But then she started seeing more. A flock started roaming backyards or walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic. And, Schnoor says, "They became progressively more aggressive."
The turkeys started chasing kids and joggers down the street. Neighbors would laugh watching the lawyer or pediatrician who lived next door being chased by a gobbling mob of birds.
When it happens to you, it's much less amusing.
Wild turkeys have been reintroduced with great success over the years, along with other native birds, such as eagles and hawks. In 1950, there were about 350,000 wild turkeys nationwide. Today there are around 3 million, and some are unexpectedly turning up in suburbs and city parks — anywhere they can find trees that drop acorns or other nuts or berries.
Wildlife experts say that birds who get accustomed to suburban life apparently start to see people as other turkeys, often displaying aggressive social behavior in attempts to establish their "turkey dominance."
The same experts advise people to intimidate back — though that can be hard to do with a 30 pound bird that's jumping on top of you and flapping its wings.
Schnoor's neighbor Louise Dionne was attacked by a large male tom. It jumped on her back, beating its wings and scratching at her with a talon that turkeys have on their leg. She made it to a neighbor's house after kicking the turkey in the chest.
She now keeps a stick near her front door to protect herself from the unpredictable birds. The larger, more aggressive toms that were in the area have since been run over by cars or otherwise met their end, and the remaining smaller birds are not as aggressive.
But "you still don't trust those turkeys you see now," Dionne says. "It doesn't take much for them to go berserk."
Children in Brookline say the turkeys there have chased them, too. Some say they're not that scared of them. It's more like a game. But parent Lisa Grobstein says that when the turkeys were being more aggressive, it was a real concern.
"If they're chasing children," she says, "[the children] could run into the road and get hit by a car. I mean, I train my kids well. If a ball rolls into the street, don't get it. But if you're panicked and running away from a wild animal, you could run into the street."
In response to complaints — and pleas for help — the town of Brookline distributed pamphlets telling people how to handle aggressive turkeys.
Massachusetts wildlife officials also offer advice. One effective method: Establish a little "turkey dominance" by giving them a good whack with a broom or chasing them with an open umbrella.
Wildlife biologists also say that feeding the turkeys can encourage them to feel at home and start getting territorial and aggressive. So don't feed them.
Most of the aggressive behavior tends to happen in the spring during the breeding season, according to biologists. But Brookline residents said turkeys were chasing joggers, cyclists, kids and even cars at other times of the year, too.