Turkeys as Urban Wildlife

I had considered blogging about urban wildlife like raccoons, skunks, opossums, squirrels, rabbits and other rodents in addition to a large assortment of insects and some amphibians that can be found in urban habitats.  Occasionally deer, ground hogs, and even turkeys have been seen in Easton.  A few years ago, a turkey hen explored the garden and parking lot in back of Nurture Nature Center.

As we’re thinking about serving turkey for Thanksgiving, this might be a good time to explore wild turkeys and their habitat.

Recently I visited a friend on Staten Island which has a human population of a half million.  We were headed down a narrow residential street on the North Shore looking for a parking space. Suddenly there was a small flock of turkey hens moving from curb to street.  We maneuvered around them.

Later in the day we passed more turkeys in front of the hospital, on street corners, in people’s yards.  I had forgotten that New York City’s fifth boro has been inundated with turkeys.  Residents complain about the filth they leave behind, and some turkeys are aggressive toward pedestrians.

I lived on the Island in the early 1980’s. No turkeys then, or deer for that matter either.  However, deer have been seen occasionally swimming across the Arthur Kill from New Jersey.  Deer too have become a nuisance in some neighborhoods, chewing on the landscaping.  Turkeys don’t swim and are not long-distance flyers. How did they get to the Island?

It seems, according to the local newspaper, that someone in 1996 released her pet turkeys on an institutional property and from there they multiplied.  There have been attempts to round up these birds and deport them, but it will take a lot more effort to remove this wildlife.  You certainly cannot hunt them in this populous municipality.  Unlike the deer which are being trapped and neutered, that method doesn’t work as well for turkeys.

Why have wild turkeys proliferated on the Island?  Turkeys require shelter (trees for roosting at night), water, and food, often found in open spaces such as yards, athletic fields, and parks.  They are omnivorous birds so they will eat grasses and leaves, insects like grasshoppers, worms, small snakes and frogs, fruit, nuts, and grains among other things that they find.  Turkeys, like some other wildlife, have adapted well to urban life.

How could the wild turkey population be reduced, aside from trapping and removing them?  While habitat shrinkage might slow the rate of population, predators such as coyotes, foxes, dogs, and humans are the more effective.  Foxes live on the Island and occasionally have caught a turkey. I do not know if coyotes have been sighted on the Island yet although they have been seen in other New York City boros.  Humans might hunt using archery in selected areas, but there is the public perception of hunting as being cruel to animals.  Does the adaptation of wild turkeys to a New York City boro foretell the future of wild turkeys in urban Lehigh Valley?