Thursday, April 13, 2017

Aggressive Turkeys Rampaging Across Massachusetts

You may or may not have noticed the Turkey Aggression going on around you.

Turkeys are not a creature that you should fear, and that headline up there is more me not knowing what else to write than an attempt to start a Mercury Theater-style panic. A turkey can injure you, make no mistake, but we'll get to that later in the article.

In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, and half or so of the turkeys are male. Love is in the air if you're a turkey, as it is mating season. I'd like to meet the person who scientifically named the turkey's mating season "the Gobbling."

Gobbling starts in mid-March, the peak runs mid-April through May, and broods start appearing in June. Turkeys get a bit aggressive during mating season, and can also be touchy when the Bay Bays are around.

Take that, tie it into our headline, and you'll see where we're headed today.

I know that broods aren't supposed to appear until June, but this guy started early and had his Bay-Bay payoff before Tax Day... unless those are hens, at which point I apologize to the turkeys in question.

Turkeys are native to America, and the nation of Turkey has no native, primordial population of them. Turkey/country lent her name to Turkey/bird via the European poultry trade with the Ottoman Empire. Opinions vary on the specifics (colonists may have mistaken American turkeys for Turkish guineafowl, which was imported all over the Mediterranean from Constantinople/Istanbul), but that's the basic etymology.

Massachusetts was crawling with turkeys by the time the Pilgrims arrived, and the Native Americans were eating them by 1100 AD or so. European explorers introduced the turkey to England in 1550.

As the Other White Meat expanded across Massachusetts, they cut down the forests and used the leftovers for farmland. Turkeys, being both a forest-dwelling bird and a tasty bird, did not fare well following the arrival of Mr. White and his family. Turkeys did not survive the 19th Century in Massachusetts, with the last native one being killed (on Mount Tom of all places, wokka wokka wokka) in the 1850s.

Farmland began to revert to forest in Massachusetts during the Industrial Revolution, as farm goods were imported into the state by the new railroads. This presented an opportunity for turkeys to return, although resettlement efforts in the first 70 years of the 20th Century failed in Massachusetts. Part of the problem is that these efforts involved farm-bred, Butterball style turkeys, and they fared poorly upon their release in the wild.

1972 saw the importation of wild turkeys from New York, and these 37 birds (and overflow from neighboring states) prospered into the 15,000 or so thought to exist in Massachusetts today. They were fully situated in SE Massachusetts by the time of a 1996 study.

Remember, kids... you can run down and have one of them, or you can walk down and have EACH one of them.

This talk of turkey resettlement means little to you if you stay out of the forest, at least for most of the year. However, just like humans, turkeys get a bit sloppy during their mating season. This leads them out into your neighborhood, and potentially into your lives.

First of all, they are promiscuous. They are not monogamous... when business is concluded, Tom Turkey is raisin' up off the cot. Toms may mate with every hen in the area. Hens will mate several times a season, and egg incubation takes a bit less than a month.

Early batches of eggs only have a bout a 40% survival rate, primarily due to weather and egg/hen predation.  25-50% of hatchlings survive, with foxes, hawks and chilling spring rains offing the other offspring. Like many rural families, they have large families in hopes of having offspring succeed them.

This is why Tom Turkey is so busy about gettin' busy, folks. He has offspring odds to offset. Pimpin' ain't easy, as the rappers say.

This means that from March through May, the party is on in Turkeytown. Much like high school kids, they care little if business takes them into your yard. This leads to increased human-turkey interaction.

Turkeys got a bit cocky around Easter, as they aren't a major menu item for this holiday. He wouldn't be Doin' The Butt at my photographers in November, I can tell you that.

Turkeys live by a code known as the Pecking Order. Turkeys assign everyone in their lives a role in their pecking order, and this role usually involves attempts to assert dominance. Humans fit into this pecking order, and the turkey assigns a sex to a human based on his/her perception of the human's behavior. A "male" human may be challenged (or deferred to) by a tom and followed by a hen.

Being followed by hens is flattering in a way, but being challenged by a Tom is a bad thing. Turkeys can give out a painful peck, and one turkey attack victim described it leaping into the air and doing a dropkick-style move with the talons.

An adult human should be able to beat down even the angriest turkey, but it won't be a pretty fight and you're probably going to come out of it with some scars. A child or an old person may be less equipped to fight a large turkey.

Don't be afraid to stomp an aggressive turkey. It ends the immediate threat, and it teaches the other turkeys who the dominant primordial beast is. Turkeys are dumb enough to attack their own reflections (they are not thought to be self-aware), and one good smackdown is worth a hundred good arguments with that crowd. The sooner they learn it, the sooner they will regard humans as the turkey-sandwich-eating dominant species.

This might save them from a scenario where they would have to be "removed" from a neighborhood. They don't do trap-n-release with nuisance turkeys. Trapping methods used by hunters in the forest don't work on Elm Street in Suburbia, USA. Suburban turkeys who become a nuisance get the ol' Smith & Wesson haircut.

It takes a village of people beating down turkeys to make a positive change. Everyone has to do it, and they have to be consistent. If you get the neighborhood bully to go beat down the baddest bird, the turkeys will learn to fear just the bully, rather than humans in general. If the next human they see looks like a sucker, the turkey aggression begins anew. If they are chased from neighborhoods, it lowers the risk of human/turkey interaction.

Two of my own photographers have suffered turkey attacks this April.

Jessica shot the bottom picture in the article when a flock of turkeys marched right through urban traffic and attacked her car. She informs me that it was very Hitchcockian, but they turkey fled in a minute when she pulled out some Stove Top.

In the picture just above, a turkey attacks the home of Cranberry County Magazine photographer Justin Thyme- who, in spite of her name, is actually a pretty girl. One can understand the turkey's motivation.

Unfortunately for this turkey, Justin has two Rottweilers named Fury and Wrath, they roam the yard from time to time, and they enjoy fresh poultry.

Nature is a cruel mistress, and one man's mommy might be another man's sandwich meat. Ideally, we'd each have our own realm to roam. However, as we noted earlier, the nation of Turkey is full of people...


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