Thursday, March 10, 2016

Now Real Turkeys are Going Postal

It's hard these days to avoid hearing about a disgusting politician "going postal" with a vicious attack on a sometimes fairly benign opponent. But an attack by a bird that is one of our beloved symbols of peace and thanksgiving?

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.


Tom Sightings said...

We have wild turkeys prowling around our "urban edge" (as they call it) here in NY as well -- along with the deer, bobcats, coyotes and even, rarely, a bear or a moose.

Celia said...

We've had a flock of wild turkeys canoodling in the parking lot of our condo complex. They didn't chase anyone down though. ;-)

Kay said...

I've never seen an actual wild turkey. No turkeys running around in Hawaii, that's for sure. That must have been quite a sight!

Rummuser said...

Unlikely to happen here as we hardly ever get to see turkeys!

Anonymous said...

Something bigger to come? Surely you are not referring to the big turkey on his way to the White House? I'd say the turkeys are getting their revenge! Kind of like Hitchcock's' film, The birds.

Dick Klade said...

That would be the ultimate turkey attack!

Alan G said...

As you can imagine, turkey hunting is a huge sport here in Arkansas. Never been myself however. In fact, have never even seen a wild turkey here in Arkansas but while working in Missouri in the late 1970's I use to see them all the time, especially in the winter time gathering in large flocks and congregating in some of the farm fields.

You may have seen the documentary "My Life As A Turkey" which documents a year and a half in the life of a man in Florida named Joe Hutto who raised and basically lived with a brood of some 16 turkeys from their hatching back in 1995. I originally watched the program on PBS several years back. The video I have linked to below is of excellent quality if you care to give it a look-see if you haven't seen it. It is about an hour long...

My Life As A Turkey

Dick Klade said...

Thanks for the video, Alan. . . very interesting. Your mention of wild turkeys in Missouri connects to a little-known chapter in natural resource history. Way back, the U.S. Forest Service established a wildlife refuge in part of the Mark Twain National Forest. To this day, wild turkeys from that area have been transplanted successfully in Michigan. Probably they also were transplanted to Wisconsin and elsewhere. I once viewed old sepia-toned slide images at the Mark Twain headquarters showing foresters loading deer for transport to northern Wisconsin. Seems Missouri has been quite a center for wildlife restoration work.

Little Bug said...

Great post!

PiedType said...

Not sure I've ever seen a wild turkey. Or if I did, didn't recognize it as such. I've certainly never heard of them ganging up and attacking someone. Maybe they decided it was high time they exacted a little revenge ...

joared said...

I remember in the sixties the first wild turkeys I ever saw were along the Mogollon Rim. We were on one of our exploratory weekend drives around the state when we lived in AZ.