It certainly isn't the right season to be a turkey, with millions celebrating Thanksgiving with a dead turkey on their dinner table. But wild turkeys in Brookline, Massachusetts appeared to have risen in support of their cousins destined for the ovens.
Police say that complaints about wild turkey attacks have been on the rise in Brookline recently. CBS Boston reports that complaints have doubled over the last month with several reports of residents having been chased, harassed and attacked by gobblers weighing up to 20 pounds and 4 feet in height.
Residents say the wild turkey population is growing rapidly and feral gangs of turkey have become a common sight escalating into a public nuisance.
According to Brookline's Wicked Local, the turkeys roam in groups around the small town. There have been 11 complaints of turkey attacks since September, with police logs reporting residents complaining about "humongous" and "aggressive" turkeys intimidating and chasing people, especially in the area near Brookline High School.
While turkey attack complaints are not new in the town, they appeared to have been on rise as Thanksgiving approached. Wicked Local reports that police log shows there have been more calls to the police in the past two months than in the entire 10 months that preceded it.
A resident of Brookline, karen Halvorson, told CBS Boston that a group of birds attacked her as she sat in her vehicle outside her house, and prevented her from going indoors. A neighbor came to her rescue and drove them away but they returned immediately and began pecking at her front door.
According to Wicked Local, a few weeks later, as she walked in the neighborhood, minding her business, three turkeys eating out of a garbage can across the street attacked her. One of the males approached her aggressively. Halvorson said she tried to avoid a confrontation with the birds, while ignoring the shouts of a high school student to turn and run. She said, "they flew in my face and scratched my neck."
She said she screamed for the police, but was rescued by a woman who was driving by. The woman threw open her car door. The turkey continued pursuing the car even as it drove off. Halvorson said: “I’m scared now to walk in my own neighborhood because there was no provocation here of any kind."
According to CBS Boston, Halvorson is organizing a meeting with Brookline authorities to discuss the turkey menace. She told CBS Boston: "I can’t believe we’re living this way." She said she was not sure how to deal with turkey aggression and that she is worried about the safety of school-age children in the area. She said if it had been a bigger group that attacked her, “I might have been dead right now.”
She has been forced into a self-defense mode: “I went down to the hiking store and I got a hiking stick with a big ball on top of it. I walk with it all the time and now I never go without my phone."
Another resident of Brookline, Jocelyn Guggenheim, told ABC News: “I’ve had them come after me. I cross the street to avoid them and I've never done that around a wild animal, even though I grew up in the woods.”
According to the Daily Mail, an officer said he spends nearly every morning protecting school children at Brookline High School from turkeys.
Boston.com reports that Pierre Verrier, a Brookline Animal Control Officer, gives residents useful tips how to survive being bullied by turkeys. His says: stay away from the birds, don't be intimidated by them and don't feed them.
Wicked Local reports that Marion Larson of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said it used to be thought that turkeys were not strongly territorial in their behavior. According to Larson, while some individuals have become aggressive, not all are aggressive. She draws an analogy from human behavior: "What we tend to find is, just like people, there are some birds that are more aggressive or less concerned about the world around them."
Larson said the aggressive ones are showing territorial behavior associated with the "pecking order." She said males high up in the social hierarchy my become aggressive and attempt to assert dominance over even humans. She said the influence of such males may turn the entire flock into a mob.
Larson advised that body language can help to prevent an attack. She recommends that people make loud noise or aggressive gestures that dissuade the dominant male from launching an attack. ABC News suggests people may spray water at an attacking bird if water is available.
She also advised people to avoid having open feeders in their gardens that attract the birds and "cover surfaces in which the turkeys can see their reflection and mistake it for a rival bird."
Larson explained that individuals that become excessively aggressive may be declared public nuisance and police may have to use lethal force. She said: “If you take out those ring leaders, the rest of the flock kind of reverts back to normal behavior."
Turkeys are the official game birds of Massachusetts and the area has a special historical relationship with them linked to the yearly turkey-eating tradition of Thanksgiving. It was in the area that the Pilgrims landed and held the first Thanksgiving. The turkeys were hunted almost out of existence in Massachusetts by 1851, Wicked Local reports.
According to the Daily Mail, between 1972 and 1996, conservation efforts restored their population, and now there are over 20,000 wild birds in Massachusetts. According Larson, they began invading suburban areas in the 1990s, because of availability of food.