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The “Gangs of Urban Turkeys” Terrorizing Massachusetts

After being nearly wiped out from New England in the 1800s, wild turkeys are apparently turning the tables on their human oppressors, wreaking havoc on the streets of Boston and other urban areas of Massachusetts. The number of residents attacked by the aggressive birds has increased dramatically in the last year, police say.

Wild turkeys once dominated the forests of the Northeast, but they seem to have taken a liking to cities and towns in Massachusetts, where finding better foraging beside dumpsters and in people’s backyards than in the woods. They’ve become so at home among humans that people have started referring to them as “urban turkeys”. They can be seen strutting their feathers on sidewalks, pecking shiny objects, blocking traffic, chasing after smaller pets and, in rare cases, even attacking people.

Photo: YouTube screengrab

And while most people laugh at the idea of getting brutalized by turkeys, experts warn that wild turkeys are considerably stronger, faster and meaner than the ones we serve on Thanksgiving. Males are particularly aggressive, and will not shy away from attacking humans to as a way to climb the social pecking order. It’s nothing personal, they don’t even think of us as humans, but as competitors, so it’s important to let them know whose boss.

“Turkeys may attempt to dominate or attack people that they view as subordinates, and this behavior is observed most often during breeding season,” Marion Larson, chief information and education officer for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife told Metro Boston. Instead of answering violence with violence, Larson recommends charging at turkeys while waving your arms in the air and yelling “like a weirdo”.

Photo: YouTube screengrab

“Turkeys don’t really mean to harm people – it’s just tied to their social dynamics within the flock,” biologist David Scarpitti said. “They lose perspective that humans are humans and turkeys are turkeys. They just want to assert dominance over anything.”

Massachusetts police are usually not allowed to remove wild turkeys, but in five of the 137 turkey cases reported in the last two years, the birds were so aggressive that they had to be shot as a matter of public safety. There was also the 2013 case of a “deranged turkey” terrorizing a school in Brookline. It also had to be euthanized.

Complaints about turkeys causing all sorts of trouble in Massachusetts have surged in the last three years, turning what was once an isolated problem into a constant source of headaches for law enforcement and health officials.

“They’re terrible. Every year they’re worse,” said Tess Bundy, a history professor in Brookline. “I really do think that they’re a menace to the town.”

 

“They get really up close to you, too,” another Brookline resident said. “One had me almost cornered, it was really uncomfortable.”

Experts say that humans carry much of the blame for this turkey invasion. Many people leave food out for the birds, which only encourages them to settle in the neighborhood to increase their chances of surviving the winter.

 

Experts advise people confronted my gangs of aggressive turkeys not to back down in fear, but “step toward the turkey and act confidently”. If that fails, all they can do is call MSPCA.

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