Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Brazen wild turkeys step out in the suburbs

With Thanksgiving around the corner, you'd think turkeys would be lying low.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, you'd think turkeys would be lying low.

But in recent weeks, some wild gobblers in Lancaster County and Jersey City have brazenly stopped traffic, perched on a roof, even hopped on cars at a toll booth.

Are they trying to make nice with humans at this critical time of year? Pretending to be pets? Looking to be fed rather than fed on?

Actually, turkeys are a lot like deer, but with two legs, wings, feathers and a beak. What the wildlife do have in common is that their populations are growing amid residential areas.

"Turkeys roam these woods 365 days a year," said Julio Santiago, former vice president of the New Jersey chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. "They don't care what holiday it is."

Problems arise when people start feeding them.

"If you see a wild turkey in your front yard and give him bread, guess what? He's your friend," Santiago said.

Last week in Mountville, Lancaster County, two turkeys tried to buddy up to customers and employees at B&J Automotive.

They sat on the building's roof and watched traffic on busy Route 462, tailgated on the back of a truck, and wandered into the middle of the street.

"People blow their horns and flash lights and the turkeys] just look at them," said Joe Miller, who owns the shop.

He said the birds show up every year about this time. They're getting pushed out of the woods by more and more housing developments.

Another bird, dubbed "Tammy" by New Jersey Turnpike toll collectors, had been hanging around the toll booths at the 14B interchange in Jersey City and freaking out motorists by running in front of their vehicles. It even jumped on toll-booth employees' parked cars. State Fish and Wildlife staff caught Tammy on Wednesday, after it had eluded authorities the weekend before.

Turnpike spokesman Joe Orlando said Tammy was taken to the Popcorn Zoo in Lacey Township, Ocean County. It's a no-kill facility.

"Now they've got a national celebrity animal," Orlando said. After media attention grew, the curious started showing up to take Tammy's photo or be photographed with Tammy.

Orlando said Tammy first showed up in the spring, disappeared, and returned in September and stuck around.

"She'd come around the toll plaza. They started giving her some water. Who would want to leave that?" Orlando said.

Not all birds are as friendly as Tammy.

In September, five turkeys who had wandered onto Brookmead Drive in Cherry Hill were caught by a local cameraman appearing to menace a little boy who had a bicycle. A woman nearby, presumably his mother, snatched him out of harm's way and ran away screaming.

The video got posted in YouTube, and as of today had received nearly 200,000 hits.

The animals were rounded up by the township's animal control officer.

"We had some turkeys that had gone wild - literally," Cherry Hill spokesman Dan Keashen said.

Keashen said turkeys aren't usually violent. "But apparently these turkeys were being harassed by kids in the neighborhood. They were pretty riled up," he said.

People were also feeding them, which would make them want to stick around, he said.

After their capture, the turkeys were taken to a farm in Franklin Township, Gloucester County, where they are living the free-range life, eating insects or other parasites that the farmer doesn't want.

"As far as I know, they're not going to be dinner," Keashen said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Carol Bannerman said the department has not received many complaints about turkeys attacking people in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But she noted that in mating season, males might attack a reflective surface such as a car window because they think they see a rival.

"They're no different from a guy in a bar with five beautiful women," Santiago said, "and the husband walks in."