Is it possible for Staten Island to develop a fondness for its “bothersome” wild turkeys?
A dispute that has been ongoing for decades between the inhabitants of Staten Island, New York and a group of untamed turkeys continues without resolution. The birds have been deemed bothersome and a potential hazard. One resident has taken legal action, alleging that the turkeys were responsible for her shoulder injury.
In Staten Island, one of the five boroughs of New York City, there is a significant population of wild turkeys. It is believed that many of these turkeys can be traced back to a woman who released her pet turkeys in 1999. These wild turkeys can grow up to 3 feet tall and can run at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. They have been known to cause disruptions in traffic and occasionally peck at people walking by.
Besides causing legal action, the birds have a reputation for annoying drivers. In 2022, a video of a resident yelling profanities at a turkey gained widespread attention, and there have been incidents of the birds damaging vehicles and leaving droppings without restraint.
However, it seems that numerous residents of Staten Island have grown fond of the turkeys. One group is particularly recognized for roaming around Staten Island University Hospital and other nearby locations.
On Thursday, when the Guardian went to the area, 15 birds were seen standing near the hospital’s emergency entrance. Some birds were still, while others were picking at their brown-grey feathers. One notably big turkey stood tall with its raised rear feathers and its blue head thrown back.
Despite claims of aggression, the group of turkeys seemed calm. Repeatedly walking past them at different speeds and even playing the “duck” ringtone on an iPhone did not agitate them.
Fran Avila, an employee at the hospital, confessed to being surprised by the turkeys in previous encounters.
“I’ve been employed here for approximately nine months. When I initially arrived, it was dark outside. I noticed that they were all perched in the trees and I was taken aback. I mistook them for vultures,” she recalled.
Avila stated that the birds did not cause her any trouble, but their excrement was the only issue. She described it as resembling that of a small dog. After examining the area, The Guardian discovered a small quantity of turkey feces, along with four feathers and 75 cents.
Avila had not observed anyone feeling intimidated by the turkeys. “It seems like no one is bothered by them. The residents are accustomed to their presence.”
Some individuals are dissatisfied with the birds, nonetheless.
In the past year, a woman filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Staten Island University Hospital, claiming that her fear of turkeys and hazardous surroundings caused her to trip and injure herself. Some have referred to the turkeys as a bothersome presence.
“This month, local resident Ed Kesich shared that I have personally been dealing with the task of removing and washing away large amounts of bird feces. This is not only a major inconvenience and financial burden, but also a threat to public health,” reported Kesich to the Staten Island Advance.
According to Kesich, the birds have started roosting in trees near his residence. He also reported witnessing a close call car accident involving a turkey. However, he stated that his complaints were disregarded by New York City officials.
Kesich remarked that no other developed country would accept such blatant neglect of responsibilities.
The North American wild turkey was close to extinction in the United States during the early 1900s due to excessive hunting. However, conservation initiatives have resulted in a significant increase in population, with 7 million nationwide and around 20,000 in New Jersey.
As the population of wild turkeys has increased, there have been conflicts between them and humans, especially in the north-eastern region. Incidents of aggressive pecking, noisy gobbling, and even kicking have become more frequent as turkeys assert their territory in parks, front yards, and even on roads.
According to the Staten Island Advance, the increase in the number of turkeys on Staten Island can be linked back to 1999. This was when an unidentified woman released nine domesticated turkeys near the South Beach Psychiatric Center, which is located near the hospital.
In recent times, the turkey population has significantly increased to hundreds. Attempts have been made in the past to decrease their numbers, such as capturing and relocating them to animal sanctuaries. However, there have also been more contentious methods, such as mass slaughter and distributing the meat to food banks. Due to financial constraints, these efforts have ceased and the turkey population has gradually recovered during the Covid pandemic, according to a report by Hell Gate.
While some residents remain unhappy, local government enthusiasm to remove the birds has since diminished. Officials held a “wildlife summit” in 2022 to come up with a plan for the birds. Local councilman David Carr stated at the time that there was “definitely a reason to try and manage the population”, according to Staten Island Advance. No conclusions from the summit appear to have been published and the plan seems to be: leave them alone.
According to Gregg McQueen, a spokesperson for the city parks department, wild turkeys are among the numerous indigenous species that reside in our city. If you happen to come across a wild turkey, there is no need to feel intimidated – simply maintain a safe distance and observe with respect.
The parks department provided suggestions for living harmoniously with turkeys, such as refraining from feeding them and not allowing wild turkeys to scare you.
According to the parks department’s advice, turkeys may occasionally try to assert their dominance over humans by acting boldly and confrontationally. However, this behavior can possibly be stopped by intimidating or frightening the turkey with exaggerated movements and loud sounds.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation stated that the main approach to addressing the turkey issue is by educating the public on how to peacefully coexist with wildlife and reduce the likelihood of conflicts. In other words, the turkeys are a permanent presence and we must learn to live with them.
Adam Sherif, the owner of High End convenience store located on Hylan Boulevard, just a short walk from the hospital, said it’s not a problem.
Sherif mentioned that he has witnessed the turkeys causing an issue when they cross the road in front of the hospital, but the majority of individuals “demonstrate respect” towards the birds.
“If not, they will begin to shout and then they will stop screaming. You are not allowed to honk at them or do anything else,” he stated. “They do not appreciate that. They will honk back at you, and it will be very loud.”
Sherif mentioned that the turkeys have never entered his shop, which sells a variety of vaping and smoking items. However, there are times when the birds gather in the back parking lot, and from there they have been known to startle individuals.
Sherif stated that they conceal themselves in the shadows and if you happen to come across them at night, you may notice a large object lurking there and it may startle you.
He proposed that individuals dissatisfied with the turkeys should depart from the vicinity.
“The enjoyment of turkeys is a vital aspect of life,” he stated. “We cannot simply eliminate something that brings joy to certain individuals. The world is vast, so one has the ability to relocate and not be rooted in one place.”