By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
In honor of Thanksgiving – and the constant stream of complaints wildlife officials get about the wild version of our holiday meal – this little item will be all about how to avoid the big birds from pecking at your heels this holiday season.
The good news is that wild turkeys have made a stunning comeback after being wiped out in the state by the mid-1800s from hunting and loss of habitat. Today, there are about 20,000-25,000 birds in Massachusetts. The bad news is that the wild turkeys have moved into Brookline, Newton and other suburbs where they are gaining an infamous reputation for terrorizing residents.
A turkey in Brookline last year (Globe photo)
“No one ever guessed turkeys would become comfortable in urban and suburban areas…biologists thought these are very wary birds, there is no way they would get used to people, said Marion Larson, a biologist at MassWildlife. “But they found food in those places and they stayed.”
The birds, if you’ve seen them on the side of the highway or maybe walking down an urban street, can be three or four feet tall and weigh up to 20 pounds. They can be very aggressive – especially if a person is not. And if you feed them, well, expect them to literally follow you. Last year, the Globe’s Keith O’Brien did a very funny story about their interactions with Brookline residents at http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/10/23/turkeys_take_to_cities_towns/
Massachusetts Audubon Wildlife Information Line coordinator Linda Cocca says the first thing people should not do is feed the birds. Giving them food directly or leaving it on the ground for them makes them become more aggressive. Here are other tips from Mass Wildlife:
* Don’t let the turkeys intimidate you. Don't hesitate to scare or threaten a bold, aggressive turkey with loud noises, swatting with a broom or water sprayed from a hose. A dog on a leash is also an effective deterrent.
* Cover windows and other reflective objects. If a turkey is pecking at a shiny object such as a vehicle or window, cover or otherwise disguise the object. Harass the bird by chasing it, squirting with a hose or other means of aggression.
* Protect your garden and crops. You can harass turkeys searching for food in your gardens. Dogs tethered on a run can also be effective in scaring turkeys away from gardens. Netting is another option to employ. In agricultural situations, some scare devices are effective.
* Educate your neighbors. Pass this information along: Your efforts will be futile if neighbors are providing food for turkeys or neglecting to act boldly towards the birds. It requires the efforts of the entire neighborhood to help keep wild turkeys wild. Turkeys are important and valuable birds in Massachusetts. They are classified as game birds for which regulated hunting seasons and management programs have been established.