Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Many disagree with Blakeman about the turkey

photo by Cal Vornberger

A flood of letters arrived after I posted Blakeman's ideas about the Central Park turkey. Here is a sampling:

Ardith Bondi of NYC writes:

Hi Marie -

I am hardly a turkey expert, either, but just a couple of thoughts on the subject....

First of all, its attraction to Cal suggests that the turkey is more likely a "she" than a "he" (she also looks more like a "she" than a "he"). Besides, she might just like being the focus of attention.

Second, she is not dissimilar to the wild turkeys that took up residence in Riverside, Battery and Inwood Hill Parks a couple of years ago, both in appearance and in accommodation to humans. I know the bird in Riverside Park had as food sources a hot dog vendor who set up his cart near her hang-out and regularly gave her scraps and children in the playground there who dropped crumbs that she cleaned up at the end of the day. The local moms and nannies and children knew her well. She
roosted in the trees and somehow managed to escape the dogs by flying into the trees and staying behind fences - which this one does as well.

The Central Park turkey also roosts in trees, which is wild behavior. I have seen wild turkeys in New Jersey and in New York north of the city. Since some of them grow up around humans, why shouldn't they accommodate to them. Therefore, my inclination is to disagree with John Blakeman, who may not be used to the behavior of wild animals that have grown up in such close proximity with humans.

More on the Riverside Park turkey from Tony of NYC:

A year or two back there was a bird in Riverside Park very similar to the current "Wild" Turkey in Central Park. It would stand bold as a peacock (which some thought it was, perhaps escaped from the St. John the Divine Cathedral grounds) in broad grassy areas, and would easily elude dogs and joggers by flying up into a tree. It hung around for 6-8 weeks and then was seen no more. Until now... My wife and I had named it "Voldemort" after the Harry Potter villian, because it would seem to appear whenever we thought of it. Truth be told, it's unlikely that this is the same bird; we had always been saddened by its disappearance, morbidly thinking perhaps that it had become some vagrant's dinner.

Sheila Perry of Hillsborough County, NH writes
Hi, Marie,

Although I'm no wildlife expert, I do live in rural NH where we have a lot of wild turkeys,* and I don't think the behavior of the Central Park turkey, by itself, is a compelling argument against it being, in fact, a wild bird.

Especially when they are young, wild turkeys can indeed come quite close to people. (Never during hunting season, though. Don't ask me how they know.) I've seen flocks of wild turkeys feeding in meadows quite close to rural highway traffic, and have been within 4 feet of wild turkeys in our yard.

In Littleton, MA, a friend of mine has wild turkeys that fly up from her front yard to roost in her pine trees. The Town of Littleton sends around notices reminding the residents that even though the turkeys are a nuisance, it's illegal to hurt them (or to hunt them out-of-season or without a license or near residences).

There is also a flock of wild turkeys in Brookline, MA, that just made local news because they've become acclimated to people and are attacking passersby.

Karen Anne Kolling writes:
I'm not sure Blakeman is correct about this being a human-raised turkey. The wild ones come pretty close to humans in my area in RI.

Stephen Watson of Pasadena CA writes:
Could the turkey be from a nearby area where they're protected but still around people? When I was in Zion National Park, the wild turkeys there have become habituated to people (because people break the rules and feed them, a violation of both ethics and laws). Sadly, the park had to post notices that it was also illegal to harass them (such as by chasing, throwing things, etc.). Point being...they're wild, but the circumstances of being in a protected area coupled with food rewards made them really accepting of people.

A nice big herd of them walked right between buildings at the main Lodge...I have some pics of them around somewhere.

So, my guess is that it's a wanderer from some similar sort of area nearby. John is correct about truly wild turkeys. My grandfather had them on his farm in Indiana, and they were *very* elusive...and smart. He was a hunter, and always said that hunting wild turkeys was very hard because of their wariness.

From the West Coast Margie writes:
I hesitate to contradict Mr. Blakeman BUT: out here on the west coast, no one hunts turkeys and they are neither wary nor shy. On two occasions, I have come around a bend on a suburban road to find a whole flock of the critters hanging out, scratching themselves and drinking beer. I had to inch within ten feet of their tailfeathers before they moved out of the way, and even then, they just moved to the side. Several years ago, I stayed at a bed and breakfast near Monterey, and wild turkeys were all over the place, calmly foraging 25 feet from the cabins. The behavior of the Central Park turkey is just what I would expect from a West Coast bird.