Staten Island turkeys ruffling feathers of residents

November 24, 2013 4:30:39 AM PST
Turkeys may be a tradition on the Thanksgiving dinner table, but they are creating a nuisance for some residents of Staten Island.

A flock of feral turkeys have taken over in areas like Dongan Hills, where some people say they have created a real mess and are holding up traffic.

Mary Jane Froese is fed up with the constant disruption the dozens of turkeys pose.

"I mean I would like my grounds back, you know my father would like to sit out here without stepping in poop," she said.

Some people say they have tried various tactics to get rid of the birds, but nothing has worked.

Others welcome the sight of the turkeys ahead of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Dozens of turkeys were rounded up from the grounds of a Staten Island psychiatric hospital and killed this summer, and again last month.

State and federal officials said they had to do something about birds that were encrusting walkways and railings with droppings.

But the roundups sparked an outcry - and an alternative for some of the birds. Some 28 were taken to an animal sanctuary in September.

"We don't want to kill them. We just want them to leave us alone," says Barbara Laing, who watched as at least 50 turkeys converged outside her house around sundown one recent evening with a chorus of honks - their own and those of drivers futilely trying to shoo them out of traffic.

The turkeys milled on the grass, flew up like cartoon ghosts into a large maple tree, and settled in for the night.

It's a sight that charms onlookers and sometimes residents, when the turkeys aren't fouling yards with droppings, devouring gardens, waking up residents with raucous pre-dawn mating sessions, and utterly disregarding dogs and other supposed deterrents.

"They really are a beautiful bird ... but they ruined our property," says Laing's sister and next-door neighbor, Mary Jane Froese.

After decades of effort to halt the decline of the symbolically American birds, experts say the nation's wild turkey population has rebounded from about 300,000 in the early 1950s to an estimated 7 million now.

The forest-dwelling gobbler has adapted to settings as populated as lower Manhattan, where a turkey nicknamed Zelda hangs out. They've been accused of attacking residents in Brookline, Mass., and menacing schoolchildren in Glendale, Wis.

And in an urban quirk, officials deemed Staten Island's wild turkeys to be not quite wild - rather, a mix of domestic and wild strains, meaning they couldn't be released to mix with other, fully wild turkeys elsewhere.

Officials envision the slaughtered, now-frozen birds becoming a turkey dinner for food pantries, but they're awaiting test results for pesticides and other chemicals the birds might have gobbled up. The results aren't expected before Thanksgiving.

Some residents and local officials backed the roundups as necessary, if regrettable.

If the birds can't be released in the wild, "I would rather see them slaughtered than see them cause an automobile accident," says Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro. "They're not made for a city."

But others were aghast.

"It's a horrible thing. You take animals and just kill them? What kind of world are we living in?" says Joe McAllister, a local neighborhood association president who joined dozens of people at an August roadside protest denouncing the slaughters. Online petitions have gathered thousands of signatures.

For now, it's unclear whether more captures are planned. In the meantime, Froese and Laing watch their ad-hoc turkey flock with a sense of familiarity, if not fondness.

"It's very interesting to watch them. It really is. You learn a lot from it," Froese says, but "now it's time for them to move out."

___ The Associated Press contributed to this report.