Milwaukee is known around the nation for a number of things from its breweries and Summerfest to its cream colored architecture and wild turkeys. Wait, wild turkeys?
Since early 2012, a wild turkey sighting has become a common occurrence for UWM students and faculty. Just last spring, UWM police officers were spotted running toward Mitchell Hall on Kenwood and Downer Avenue. Many feared someone was hurt and rushed to investigate. As it would turn out the source of the police response was a lone wild turkey perched on a ledge outside the hall’s northeast entrance. As police officers attempted to snare the critter, the turkey took flight and made a daring escape causing the police to give chase while students laughed at the odd incident just before midterm exams. For many, this incident was thought to be a rarity but apparently the sightings have become commonplace.
Just last month, UWM student Mac Writt was walking near Sandburg Hall when he noticed he was being followed by a large turkey. While the turkey wasn’t perceived as hostile, likely because mating season generally falls between February and April, the turkey certainly wasn’t bothered by his presence. This has become a concern for many wildlife experts because in the wild, turkeys, like many other animals native to Wisconsin such as the coyote and timber wolf, tend to shy away from humans.
As wild animals become more comfortable coexisting with humans dangerous patterns begin to emerge. For example, turkeys in Milwaukee are likely being tamed by the presence of abundant food sources such as bird feeders, trash and whatever humans feed them. As a result, opportunistic turkeys will come to associate humans as a source of food and become bothersome or even hostile, especially when attempting to protect their young.
East Side resident Madison Johnson recently spotted a mother turkey with her young while walking to Bradford Beach from her apartment on Maryland Avenue. Heeding a warning sent out by UWM, Johnson did well to stay clear of the turkeys to not incite unnecessary confrontation.
“I was on a walk from my apartment to Bradford Beach for no particular reason other than it was beautiful out,” says Johnson “I was taking my time and texting on my phone when I had a weird feeling like something was watching me. I looked up and in front of an apartment building probably a block or so away from Downer there was a Turkey with a few of her babies.”
“I’ve seen lots of turkeys before but I was really surprised to see a whole family in the middle of Milwaukee. I’m not a Milwaukee native and since I’ve moved here I’ve been shocked at the amount of wildlife I’ve seen around the city. It’s cool to see, but I don’t know if it’s the best place for the animals to be.”
As turkey sightings are becoming more common on Milwaukee’s East Side, many are wondering where they’re coming from. As it turns out, wild turkeys were extinct in Wisconsin until a reintroduction of the species in 1976. Since then, well-regulated hunting and habitat protection has brought the population back to full strength. But as humans clear more land for housing and development, the booming turkey population is finding itself out of a home. As a result, the turkeys are making their homes among us.
“Wild things are running out of space, due to never ending paving, building and expansion,” local animal activist Hanna Medrow told Molly Snyder of OnMilwaukee.com. “I imagine the turkeys, geese, foxes, deer would prefer wild and secluded spaces, but it’s possible the more territorial animals are claiming what little is left. I find the whole thing very troubling.”
Despite the unordinary appeal of seeing a wild turkey, experts are urging citizens to stay clear of the turkeys, especially if they appear hostile. According to a public safety announcement by the USDA and the State of Wisconsin, male or tom turkeys commonly get aggressive if they perceive a human as a subordinate part of their flock or see a reflection of themselves, especially during mating season.
As a result, the turkey may attempt to beat a person with its wings, scratch with its talons, peck, or even charge and chase. If the tom mistakes a human for a female member of its flock, it may follow or even attempt to impress with a flashy mating dance. With the exception of the mating dance, turkey hens exhibit the same traits as the toms and are known to be extremely aggressive when in the presence of their young.
In light of turkeys of all temperaments roosting in the trees, on their houses, or elsewhere on their property, east side residents have been deploying a range of non-lethal methods to keep the turkeys at bay. While some advocate for building a simple fence, they don’t realize that turkeys are capable of flight, hence their ability to roost in high places such as trees.
Therefore, the most reliable methods are keeping your grass cut to prevent seeding, cleaning up excess seeds from bird feeders, installing bird spikes on your roof and using a biodegradable chemical, Methyl Anthranilate, commonly found in the form of the product Rejex-it. The latter is environmentally safe, doesn’t require a permit and acts as a non-lethal repellent. And because turkeys are intelligent creatures that remember their surroundings, they’re likely not to return if they’re impeded.