by Tom Conroy
Information Officer DNR
It doesn't happen often but occasionally wild turkeys turn the tables on us.
Anyone who has ever hunted them knows wild turkeys are as wary and cagey as a bird can be. If they even suspect there might be a human being in the vicinity, they'll be over the next ridge quick as a hiccup. Then again, there are exceptions.
It happened recently in a Twin Cities suburb. A flock of eight turkeys, it seems, prefer fight over flight.
I learned about it in a phone call from an old friend who, after retiring from his regular job, accepted an offer to become an animal control officer. They used to call them dogcatchers. And that's what he thought he'd be doing, mostly. Little did he know.
Every now and then he'll call to report on his latest adventure, invariably beginning with the words, "You are not going to believe*.."Ě One time it concerned scraping a smushed raccoon off a busy street as cars sped by, honking their horns. He once called while sitting next to a storm water drain, waiting for a truck to lift the grate so he could rescue a worried mallard hen's ducklings.
The other day he was bitten six times by a dog and then responded to a call about a peacock on a guy's deck. He tried to capture it with a large net but the peacock flew up into a tree. He was going back the next day with a live trap and corn.
One especially memorable call came the day he was asked to remove three cats from a murder scene. Understandably apprehensive, he did agree to enter the apartment with a police escort and managed to cage two of the cats. The third cat, he was told, was under the bed where the victim's body had been found. He handed a cage to the police and suggested they return it later.
His latest "you won't believe this*"Ě call had to do with wild turkeys. "This guy calls and says he's being attacked by turkeys,"Ě my dogcatcher friend breathlessly exclaims. "So, Mr. DNR guy, just what the heck am I supposed to do about that?!"Ě
Seems there's a fellow who walks to work every day, passing by a business where employees have placed a feeder near the sidewalk.
Eight turkeys have discovered the feeder and each time the fellow walks by while the turkeys are feeding, they chase him.
Now, there are probably plenty of urban folks who consider feeding a squirrel a true wildlife adventure. Witness the recent fiasco in New York City that made national news when a coyote sparked pandemonium after it was discovered in Central Park. For some 20 hours New York's finest chased the animal, an ice skating rink was evacuated, and a news helicopter took to the air to search for it.
It was finally tranquilized it and sent to a center to be rehabilitated.
So I suppose it could be understandable, the panic the fellow felt as he suddenly found himself as the star of a new horror flick, Revenge of the Wild Turkeys! At the same time, as I tried to imagine the scene, I couldn't help but think of the TV show America's Funniest Home Videos.
The turkey attack victim, however, has seen no humor in the matter. And my dogcatcher buddy was at a loss as to what to do. I suggested he get a DNR permit to net and remove the birds. "Yah, right, I can just see myself running around with a (&$^!@* net trying to catch a bunch of wild turkeys,"Ě he huffed! "How am I going to catch one, I can't even shoot one when we're hunting!"Ě
Eventually he met with the business employees, only to learn that they were quite fond of these turkeys and intended to keep feeding them. The upset pedestrian, on the other hand, wanted the turkeys dead. "So, great, now I'm right in the middle of it,"Ě the frustrated dogcatcher barked. "What am I supposed to do now?!"Ě
My suggestion that he use his newfound experience to someday look for a DNR job fell on deaf ears. In the end, the employees agreed to move the feeder away from the sidewalk, which should take care of the problem.
Wildlife-human conflicts have become more common across the country in recent years as people continue to occupy more space formerly inhabited only by wildlife. As for turkeys, the DNR has developed guidelines for handling complaints.
Turkey complaints in urban areas, whether it's Mankato or Burnsville, present unique challenges because traditional control methods, such as hunting, may not be allowed. And while some complaints do concern wild turkeys that have become "urbanized,"Ě others result from the release of pen-raised turkeys.
DNR strategies for minimizing turkey problems include hunting, habitat management, and technical assistance. While some cities allow hunting in certain areas, other cities do not and thus assume responsibility for handling problem turkeys.
Tips to minimize nuisance turkey problems include:
¬∑Not raising and releasing turkeys - it's illegal
¬∑Not feeding turkeys; encourage your city to adopt wildlife feeding bans
¬∑Cleaning up spilled seed around bird feeders
¬∑Eliminating tame and/or overly aggressive turkeys (requires a DNR permit).
For those more comfortable around wildlife, don't be shy about taking charge. Be aggressive. Rather than be chased, turn the table yourself and chase them (you won't catch one, promise). A broom, walking stick or dog will also convince an aggressive turkey to think again. We're talking about a 20-pound bird here, after all.
There is a natural pecking order in nature. Turkeys pecking people is out of order. However, if you're not able to restore the proper order yourself, call a DNR wildlife manager - or the local animal control officer. I know one who, if he isn't out chasing peacocks or scraping up road kill, would be happy to help.