Here's what to do if you see a wild turkey. Hint: Don't chase it
Residents say aggressive wild turkeys are roaming the Holiday City portion of Toms River. Asbury Park Press
Wild turkeys are back, but some people aren't too wild about sharing their neighborhoods with them.
People have reported turkeys chasing them, attacking their cars, trashing their yards.
You might even call them Public Enemy No. 1.
But they’re not going anywhere.
A native species, turkeys had disappeared in New Jersey due to habitat changes and hunting by the mid-1800s, according to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. They were reintroduced in 1977 with 22 birds. Now, there are more than 20,000 in New Jersey, and there are spring and fall turkey hunting seasons.
Turkeys have been reintroduced in 48 states, including Delaware.
“We brought turkeys back to Delaware from surrounding states,” said Joe Rogerson, Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife Species Conservation and Research Program Manager. “Our turkey population is still increasing, and they’re most likely found in our rural areas, away from suburban populations."
Hence, no turkey complaints from Delawareans.
Because of the reintroduction, says Susan Russell of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, don't blame the birds.
“I happen to think turkeys have very beautiful faces and they get a bum rap,” Russell said. “They make their presence known in some cases, and in some cases they don’t.”
Turkeys made headlines around Thanksgiving time in 2019 when residents of Holiday City and other parts of Toms River in New Jersey weren’t happy with their arrival. Pro baseball player Todd Frazier was among the haters.
“They have come close to harming my family and friends, ruined my cars, trashed my yard and much more ...,” Frazer tweeted.
The Toms River turkeys were relocated.
The New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife does not release the “location of translocated wildlife and is not tracking the relocated turkeys,” said a spokesperson via email.
Wild turkeys are holding it down in the Ocean Breeze section of Staten Island, according to silive.com, and when a male turkey was removed from a Palmyra Wawa parking lot 2019, it made headlines.
New Jersey received 134 complaints about wild turkeys in 2020, which was up “significantly” from the previous year, said a Division of Fish & Wildlife spokesperson via email. “The increase in complaints is attributed to more people being home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have led to more opportunity for the public to observe and report the animals.”
Ayden Morgan of Dumont has seen one around town, including on his front lawn. He hasn’t reported it.
“It’s not aggressive,” Morgan said. “If anything it walks away from people.”
But in other parts of the area, it’s a different story.
According to the Pennsylvania and New York chapters of Wildlifehelp.org, "turkeys may behave aggressively toward humans, especially in areas where natural woodland habitats are scarce or where people have been feeding them. They have been known to chase humans; however, attacks can usually be deterred and minor injuries can be avoided by giving turkeys a respectful amount of space."
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation states that during the winter, turkeys reduce their range, diminish their daily activities, and often form large flocks. Turkeys are able to scratch through 4 to 6 inches of snow to find food. Feeding turkeys during harsh winter months is generally not recommended nor needed.
What should you do if you see one?
“Turkeys should be treated like all wildlife — observe and enjoy them from a distance,” said a spokesperson for the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife. “Turkeys, like any wildlife species, are not relocated unless they pose a threat to human health and safety.”
Situations can arise during the springtime mating season. They can have a turkey attitude.
“They’re very unusual birds in that that have very strong personalities,” Russell said. “They’re very hierarchal and they’re extremely aware of their hierarchy. If you see a turkey and it’s not friendly to you, somehow establish, without hurting the bird, that you’re higher on the totem pole than he is or she is by hitting the ground with a broom or yelling, something like that.”
Can’t we all just get along? proposed comedian Vinnie Brand, who often sees wild turkeys on and near his property in the Village section of Middletown, says wild turkeys show no fear.
“You should not chase a turkey,” Brand said. “Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird because turkeys are not wimpy. If you’re going to attack a turkey, it’s going to come right back at you."
If you encounter a turkey, Brand said, here's what to do: "Take out your cellphone, position your head right next to the turkey, extend your right arm and take a selfie and leave the thing alone!” he said. “Get the picture and move on!”
Turkeys are here, thanks to us, and they’re not going anywhere.
“They sleep in trees, sleep on fences and they’re eeking out a living among us,” Russell said. “They’re defensive, so if you leave them alone they’re fine.”
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Chris Jordan, a Jersey Shore native, covers entertainment and features for the USA Today Network New Jersey. Contact him at @chrisfhjordan; email@example.com.