Well, it's happened. Recently a flock of more than a dozen wild turkeys ambushed a mailman in Hillsdale, New Jersey, apparently without provocation. More than a dozen of the big birds trapped the postal worker inside his delivery truck until he was able to call for help and his supervisor summoned two policemen to shoo the turkeys away.
The supervisor's call was recorded: "You're not going to believe this, but I have a carrier that's being attacked by wild turkeys--won't let him deliver the mail. It's crazy. They were actually attacking, biting. They chase trucks."
Police said the turkeys eventually returned to a nearby wooded area.
|A belligerent bird in New Jersey. (Keith Sra photo)|
Sixty years ago, it would have been a rarity to find any turkeys, much less a dozen, in a wooded area east of the Mississippi. Once-large populations of wild turkeys were so decimated by over-hunting at the start of the 20th century that remaining birds had to be protected by strict game laws. The birds were virtually extinct in many eastern states.
Thanks to great restoration work by hunters, especially members of the Wild Turkey Federation, and state and federal wildlife managers, wild turkeys have made a remarkable comeback. We see individual birds and flocks often on routine drives on rural roads in our southwest Michigan area. Regular hunting seasons are routine, and estimates of Michigan populations have run about 200,000 in recent years. Wisconsin, where wild turkeys were considered extinct statewide in the 1880s, now has population estimates in the half million range.
It took years, however, to reach this happy state of turkey affairs. Initial restoration efforts failed when managers tried to transplant tame birds into the wild. Success came only after strategy changed to transplanting only with wild birds. But there were few wild birds available, so the process was lengthy.
Wisconsin's first major successful turkey reintroduction was made between 1954 and 1957 at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, south of Wisconsin Rapids. Enough birds were available by April 1966 for the first controlled hunt in that area in decades.
Local hunters were excited. I was sports editor at The Daily Tribune in Wisconsin Rapids at the time. A section in my book, Days with the Dads: Recollections of a Small-Time Journalist, describes the events this way:
A self-styled expert arrived in our office a few weeks before the hunt. He wore
a full camouflage outfit and startled our reporters and editors by producing a
few loud turkey calls. We got a photo, and I wrote a story quoting him on exactly how
a hunter should go about bagging a wild turkey.
Some 30 gunners drew a chance to participate in the hunt at Necedah. I drove down
to cover the historic event. There's not much a reporter can observe about hunting,
except what he hears, unless he is one of the hunters. I didn't win out in the drawing,
so my story was about the noises that day at the refuge. My story unfortunately
ruffled feathers of quite a few of the neophyte turkey hunters.
I said the air was filled with the sounds of many calls that sounded nothing like a
turkey, the noise of random shotgun blasts, a whole lot of profanity, and some real
gobbling that could have been a form of turkey laughter. My recollection is that the
enthusiastic, but inexperienced, Wisconsin hunters bagged a total of six birds.
Later, the hunters got wiser and turkey populations boomed . . .Experienced sports-
men say it is fairly easy to call a turkey into the open. In 1966 they simply didn't
quite know how to do it at Necedah.
Who would have guessed the same type of birds that hid out from humans at Necedah would become confident and numerous enough to launch attacks on members of a major federal organization? Let's hope the wild turkey assault in New Jersey is not a sign of something bigger to come.