Saturday 20 January 2018

Fowl stay has city talking turkey

A police officer eases her patrol car through a Staten Island, New York, junction, where a large population of the feral fowls have taken up residence. (AP/Kathy Willens)
A police officer eases her patrol car through a Staten Island, New York, junction, where a large population of the feral fowls have taken up residence. (AP/Kathy Willens)

A flock of wild turkeys in New York City is no poultry matter as America approaches the Thanksgiving harvest holiday.

After decades trying 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 seven million now. And some of them have set up home in the Big Apple, causing people to cry fowl.

A population of roving turkeys on New York's Staten Island has become a mess-making, traffic-stopping annoyance to some, a surprise natural attraction to others and a problem for government officials. Dozens of the birds were rounded up and killed this summer.

"We don't want to kill them. We just want them to leave us alone," said Barbara Laing, who watched as at least 50 turkeys converged outside her house while drivers tried to shoo them out of traffic.

The turkeys foul gardens, devour plants and wake people up with their pre-dawn mating sessions.

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

The turkeys have adapted to settings as densely populated as lower Manhattan, where a bird nicknamed Zelda hangs out. They have been accused of attacking residents in the Boston suburb of Brookline and menacing schoolchildren in Wisconsin.

On Staten Island, the birds started congregating at a state psychiatric hospital and attracting notice a decade or so ago.

Turkey complaints have led to at least one arrest - of a resident who set off fireworks to try to disperse the birds in 2007 - and schemes such as coating turkey eggs with vegetable oil in the hope of preventing embryos from developing. It did not work.

The controversy peaked in August, when the US Department of Agriculture captured some of the estimated 80 birds at the psychiatric hospital and took them to be slaughtered. After an outcry, an animal shelter in the Catskills agreed in September to take all the turkeys it could - 28.

More birds were rounded up and killed last month. State officials said the round-ups were necessary because the flock was launching "attacks on patients, employees and visitors" and raising sanitation concerns.

Officials envisage the slaughtered, now-frozen birds becoming a Thanksgiving turkey dinner for the pantries of poorer residents, but they are awaiting test results for pesticides and other chemicals the birds might have gobbled up.

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

But others were horrified. "It's a horrible thing. You take animals and just kill them? What kind of world are we living in?" said Joe McAllister, a neighbourhood association president who joined dozens of people at an August protest against the slaughters.

Online petitions have gathered thousands of signatures, but f or now, it is unclear whether more captures are planned.

AP

Press Association

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