Turkeys Gone Wild!

Time for a turkey tale and this one has it all: protagonists, antagonists, laughter, sorrow, and death. A tale of revenge or horrible misunderstanding? Wild turkey season opened in Texas this month, the turkeys seem to be the ones doing the hunting in other states. Turkeys don’t mess with Texas…

Turkeys Gone Wild!
Photo by Ruth Caron on Unsplash

Remember when letter carriers and dogs were natural adversaries? Now you can add wild turkeys to the list. In a Sacramento, California neighborhood, a flock of wild turkeys recently targeted the men who deliver the mail, attacking them and their trucks. One neighbor dubbed them the Drumstick Gang. These type of attacks are happening all over the country. Experts can only speculate why….

At the Anacostia River Walk Trail in Washington, D.C. peaceful walks or runs are frequently interrupted by the threat of weaponized talons from an angry bird. In New Jersey, a family dinner was interrupted when a turkey crashed into their kitchen window, and on a porch in Massachusetts, a letter carrier calls for help cornered by wild turkeys with attitude.

In the recent California case, one letter carrier’s hand was injured by a male turkey, called Tom. Tom turned up dead months later with the mailman claiming self-defense with a stick. Animal rights groups want the mail carrier punished, while other neighbors want the turkeys gone---by any means necessary.

For months, the Drumstick Gang couldn’t be stopped. Unthreatened by humans, they boldly walked the streets chasing and charging anyone who got in their way, especially letter carriers. California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife was called in to help. According to a report by the Sacramento Bee, Fish and Wildlife considered a “sting” operation using postal workers as bait to attract the turkeys so a capture crew could swoop them up and send them to a federal wildlife area. Unfortunately, the feds said no. Neighbors had seen Amazon delivery truck drivers and garbage collectors chased but observed how the turkeys waited for mail trucks. It was noted by Fish and Wildlife in a document titled, “Aggressive Wild Turkeys in Sacramento--Repeated Aggression toward Postal Service Mail Carriers.” Federal and state wildlife attempts to capture the culprits failed because the birds ran away from staff. After Tom’s death, it seemed the conflict was waning, but it was not the end. A state wildlife officer captured video of turkeys chasing a mail truck down the street.

Outsmarted in Oakland

Oakland can be a tough city. One aggressive turkey learned that the hard way. Named Gerald by locals, the wild bird targeted and attacked elderly women and young children. His aggression forced closure of a city neighborhood rose garden because of his repeated attacks. But Gerald was up against a cunning and experienced director of wildlife emergency services. Rebecca Dmytryk posed as a frail old woman to get Gerald’s attention. He took the bait, puffed out his chest and charged her. She grabbed him by the neck and had him carted off to a better suited home for terrorist Toms deep into the hills. It took a month to capture him. Dmytryk says Gerald was confused about his role in society (and the animal kingdom), so he lashed out and relentlessly attacked Rose Garden visitors. Dmytryk suspects the root of Gerald’s problem was that humans were feeding him. “That habituated him to human interaction when typically, turkeys instinctually keep their distance from people.”

The Reason for Fowl Play

The words from experts seem to all land in two areas: male dominance during the spring mating season, and human disruption of the natural order.

Matthew Miller of the Nature Conservatory says wild, male turkeys become extremely aggressive during the spring mating season. He also warns that feeding turkeys disrupt their natural instinct to avoid and ignore us. Once fed from human hands, the human becomes part of the flock and a subordinate. No intention of a pun, but turkeys operate according to a pecking order. They will attack people they view as subordinates. For this reason, people who have suffered turkey attacks recommend not looking the birds in the eye.

They will also attack their own reflections in shiny things because they assume it’s another Tom competing for the attention of female turkeys.

A few more turkey insights from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (PETA), are that turkeys can recognize human faces; this might account for the lengthy battle with mail carriers. They travel in groups or gangs, and they are smart. It is good to remember that turkeys can jump to reach food in trees and fly at speeds of up to fifty-five miles per hour. Outrunning them could be a challenge because they can run at speeds of up to twenty-five miles an hour. They are crafty. Wild turkeys can elude hunters by moving quickly and silently when pursued.

The End to this Story is Half Baked or Not Quite Done….

Fish and Wildlife officials declined to release to the Sacramento Bee several of the records related to the investigation into Tom’s death. “The three withheld records are being withheld pursuant to Gov. Code 6254, subd. (f) as they reflect the analysis of the investigating officer,” wrote Emma Kennedy, an attorney at the agency who was referring to the officer who investigated and analyzed the death of a large bird.

The Bee has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Postal Service, which is still being processed. Reporter Ariane Lange summed up her story this way, “Meanwhile, humans in the neighborhood have said they’re living in an uneasy truce with the surviving turkeys.” One woman said she hasn’t witnessed turkeys chasing mail trucks in quite some time, but she saw one bird sitting on the fence right outside her bathroom window, staring inside (“a peeping tom”). She told Lange that she can tell there are fewer turkeys running around than there used to be. But they still seem to be angry at mail and package delivery workers, for reasons known only to them.

Myra Jolivet is a storyteller. First a TV news anchor and reporter. Then came PR work and consulting. That's where she is today - banging her head against the wall - trying to help CEOs and political candidates tell their stories well. Myra writes a series of murder mysteries She was a kid with an imaginary friend. That says it all.