Expert explains wild turkeys on the loose
A few days ago, Kristin Karpinski was driving in Shorewood near the intersection of Oakland Avenue and Capitol Drive. Suddenly, near Sendik's, traffic stopped and Karpinski was concerned that someone had been hit by a car.
"But then, three people ran across the road, super crazy-like. It looked like they were being chased by someone or something," she says.
Karpinski then saw a large turkey running swiftly behind the people and appeared to be chasing them.
"It was the biggest turkey I have ever seen and it was chasing them across the road," she says. "And, even better, the turkey was being herded by an old lady in a motorized scooter."
Based on social media reports and responses from OnMilwaukee.com readers in this week's Social Circle, it seems that Shorewood is home to quite a few turkeys. (Yes, yes, the potential for jokes in this article is just too easy.)
But it seems that many people, not just Shorewoodians, have wild turkey stories these days and Facebook is full of urban turkey photo postings. One turkey even has his own Facebook page.
So what's up with the turkeys?
Scott Diehl is the wildlife manager at the Wisconsin Humane Society and he says turkeys disappeared from Wisconsin wildlife in the '70s, but the Department of Natural Resources later reintroduced the species to southwestern Wisconsin which contributed to the current overpopulation.
When OnMilwaukee.com tracked Diehl down for an interview, he was on his way to investigate an aggressive turkey at UWM.
"Marquette had a turkey hanging out recently, too," he says.
Diehl explains that the influx of recent turkey spottings is because it's mating season. "The males are bold and fired up," he says. "They are trying to impress the females. They strut up to them as if they are saying, 'I'm the fittest turkey, choose me!'"
To woo the females, male turkeys will put their tail up, fluff their feathers and blood will rush to the skin on their head, turning it bright red. (Ahem.)
According to Diehl, male turkeys attract "harems" of female turkeys who initially act uninterested but after they choose which male turkey will fertilize their eggs they tend to follow them around until laying time.
Female turkeys can lay 10-12 eggs and they all hatch around the same time. After fertilizing the eggs, the male turkeys do not have any interactions with the females or the babies. (Jerks.)
Local animal activist Hannah Medrow has a theory on the overpopulation.
"Wild things are running out of space, due to neverending paving, building and expansion. I imagine the turkeys, geese, foxes, deer would prefer wild and secluded spaces, but it's possible the more territorial animals are claiming what little is left. I find the whole thing very troubling," she says.
In the wild, turkeys are very wary of humans – as any hunter will attest. Many of the urban turkeys are searching for food. The more aggressive turkeys have often been fed by humans and might charge at them because they believe they are a food source. Diehl says this time of year – after a long winter – food is particularly scarce for them both in nature and ground scraps. Consequently, turkeys are also drawn to bird feeders.
Turkeys also keep similar schedules as humans, sleeping at night (they tend to roost in trees) and walking around during the day in search of food and, during mating season, companionship.
Male turkeys are often spotted in front of windows because they think their reflection is a competitor and they try to intimidate or "one up" the image. Sometimes, this leads to the turkey pecking the glass and suffering an injury.
Diehl says he recently spotted a turkey in his driveway, posturing at his own reflection on his shiny car door. "It's kind of funny, because my car is rarely clean, but I had just gotten it washed," he says.
Turkeys are capable of causing harm, and in rare cases have, but they are not usually violent. Humans should do their best to keep a distance and never tease or feed them.
Regardless, the size and strength of turkeys can be daunting to humans. "They have very fast, strong legs," says Diehl. "Drumsticks, if you will."
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