NEW YORK—Driving down the busy Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island, one Staten Islander recalled, traffic suddenly stopped for no apparent reason. She jutted her head out the window and realized that she was five cars away from a gaggle of about 20 wild turkeys crossing this six lane two-way road. The turkeys walked slowly and "pompously," ignoring the long line of cars.
"We waited and waited, and waited, until the whole flock walked across. I was sorry I didn't have my camera because I had never seen anything like this and didn't know turkeys had an attitude," she said.
According to the NYC Parks and Recreation Department, wild turkey populations live in various parks across New York City, including Van Cortland Park and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan and the Greenbelt in Staten Island. Wild turkeys are protected species in NYC and it is illegal to hunt them. According to the parks department, the population has been growing, going from near extinction in the 1950s to 65,000 in the 1990s.
In November of last year, six MTA workers chased a 10-pound female turkey around the Manhattan side toll plaza of the Triborough Bridge and in 2004 a female turkey named Zelda stopped traffic when she wandered onto the West Side Highway from Battery Park. But unlike single bird sightings, Staten Island and especially the neighborhood of Ocean Breeze has a growing population of wild turkeys that roam around private residences and have become a nuisance to some.
One Staten Island resident was so fed up with the increasing wild turkey population near his home that he reportedly shot multiple bottle rockets into a group of turkeys in his backyard. He was charged with disturbing wildlife and attempted cruelty to wildlife.
"It's is frustrating, we want to do something for the residents in Ocean Breeze who keep calling and complaining their houses are surrounded by wild turkeys," said Christopher Decicco, speaking for Councilman James Oddo's office. Oddo represents areas where the wild turkeys roam.
"We tried to have them taken away, but the Department of Environmental Conservation said they wouldn't do that because the turkeys have been around humans for too long," said Decicco.
Meanwhile, the turkeys keep multiplying year after year and have now found refuge at the grassy manicured grounds of the South Beach Psychiatric Center of Ocean Breeze.
Marion Schaal, director of costumer service at the center, said the wild birds co-exist with the people of the center but would be better off moved to where there are no cars.
"At this point they are residing here, we have no choice, they fly and walk around… Some people like them and some don't," she said.
Schaal said they have called government officials but to no avail. "We are not feeding them in any organized way but I have seen people feeding them outside our gates."
Attack of the Turkeys
In California, where wild turkeys are also a growing problem, the Department of Fish and Game offers some helpful advice.
"Some homeowners can't resist feeding the wild turkeys. That's when trouble begins. A few stray visitors soon become a flock of permanent residents that have lost their natural fear of humans," their website reads.
Adult wild turkeys can weigh upwards of 20 pounds, can destroy flowers and vegetable gardens, leave their droppings on patios and decks, and roost on cars, scratching the paint, the site warns. Turkeys can also become aggressive during the breeding season, occasionally even charging and acting aggressively toward people.
The site's advice: "Prevent problems by discouraging wild turkeys from becoming too comfortable on your property."
The site's recommendations include removing bird feeders, installing motion-detecting sprinklers, and getting a dog. "If confronted by a wild turkey that has lost its fear of humans, an open umbrella may help steer it out of your path."