It’s the time of year when millions of turkeys across the US may justifiably fear for their safety, but in one Massachusetts town the birds have turned the tables, ganging up to “terrorize” residents with pecks, kicks and hard kicks.
People in Woburn, northwest of Boston, have suffered a barrage of attacks and intimidation from a group of five wild turkeys, with the situation prompting some to grab makeshift weapons and residents to report being trapped in their homes.
The turkeys, led by a male bird nicknamed Kevin, arrived two years ago. At first the birds were docile, but as time went on they became increasingly aggressive, leaving the Woburners fearing for their safety and forced to adjust their behavior.
“They don’t let you out of your house,” said Meaghan Tolson, who lives in Woburn and has named the turkeys.
“They are driving cars, stopping traffic. They chase kids on bikes. If you’re walking or jogging, or something like that, they’re coming for you.”
The wild turkey population has increased in Massachusetts in recent years. The birds, which were reintroduced to the state in the 1970s, roost in trees or even lampposts at night, but by day the Woburn gang of five spends most of their time on Tolson’s lawn.
From there, the perpetrators, described by officials as “black to black-bronze with white wing bars, blackish-brown tail feathers and a blue-gray to red head,” can launch attacks on hapless pedestrians and postal workers, even stop the traffic stands in the middle of the road and viciously pecks the tires.
“The neighborhood has become much more aware,” said Tolson, a nurse.
“A lot of people will leave brooms or rakes on their front door so they can get them out if the turkeys are there.”
Tolson said she even found herself trapped in her home by the birds.
“Some days it’s frustrating. I’ll be like, “Oh my god, there’s an Amazon package,” and I can’t go get it, because the turkeys are there.
“Then I just have to wait until it gets dark. I have adapted over time to this. I know their routine now so I can work [them].”
Turkeys are native to the US, but were extinct in Massachusetts by 1851 due to habitat loss, according to MassWildlife, the state’s wildlife conservation agency.
In the 1970s, a group of biologists decided to try to reintroduce the turkeys, trapping 37 birds in New York state and releasing them in southwestern Massachusetts. The birds thrived and, supplemented by further out-of-state turkey transplants, there are now 30-35,000 turkeys in Massachusetts.
An unintended consequence was the expansion of birds into towns and cities. Turkeys eat readily available food, including seed from bird feeders, said Dave Scarpitti, Mass Wildlife’s turkey and game project manager.
“Unfortunately, it is this food source that is most often the cause of human-wildlife conflict,” Scarpitti told the Guardian.
MassWildlife even has a how-to page on their website: “Talking Turkey.”
“Don’t hesitate to scare or threaten a bold, aggressive turkey with loud noises, a broom being dropped, or water sprayed from a hose,” says MassWildlife. According to a “living with wild turkeys” fact sheet, residents can avoid conflict by not feeding them and keeping feeders off the ground. He also advises, “Don’t let the turkeys intimidate you.”
Tolson blames Kevin, distinguished as the only male in the group by his impressive size and elaborate tail feathers, for the group’s behavior, noting that when Kevin is absent the female turkeys tend to leave people and cars by themselves.
“Women are softer and not so territorial. But I think it kind of enhances them to make them chase people. But they’re never the instigators,” Tolson said.
“When Kevin isn’t around, they’ll go about their business and get away from you.”
Frightened residents have made calls to the police, and Tolson said officers sometimes show up and “shove the birds away.” But once the law is gone, the turkeys resume their reign of terror. The birds also seem to have piled up in recent months, Tolson said, which makes them even more intimidating.
“These turkeys are ready for Thanksgiving,” he said.
“Never [Kevin] he chases you, he can kick quite well.”
Despite all the trouble, Tolson said she hopes the birds aren’t in a bad mood.
“When I don’t see them for a couple of days, I think, ‘Oh no, someone’s run over them,'” he said.
“I mean, yeah, it can be a pain sometimes. But, you know, they’re just turkeys.”