When Audrey Evans works from home, a raspy chirp is her soundtrack.
His building for graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is not air-conditioned, so in the warmer months, Evans likes to open the windows.
“I’ll be working on my computer and I’ll hear turkey noises,” said Evans, who set up the “Turkeys of UW Madison” Instagram account as a fan page dedicated to urban birds. “Always the perfect opportunity to take a break and go look out the window to see the turkeys just below.”
More than a century after Wisconsin’s wild turkey population was nearly swallowed up, the birds are thriving. Now many are even flocking to urban and suburban areas.
“For the most part, they’ve been restored to their entire former range, and then some,” said John Kanter, senior wildlife biologist at the National Wildlife Federation.
Wild turkeys nearly gobbled up in Wisconsin
Wild turkeys, once plentiful in the region, had been wiped out from Wisconsin in the late 1800s through a combination of unregulated hunting and the decimation of their former habitats by the logging industry.
For much of the 20th century, attempts to restore birds to their former habitats failed, in part because authorities tried to send captive-bred birds back to the wild.
“They were trying to raise them with domestic turkeys and then release them, and they found they behaved like pen-raised birds and didn’t survive,” Kanter said.
In the 1970s, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources brokered an agreement with the Missouri Department of Conservation to exchange Wisconsin ruffed grouse for Missouri wild turkeys. After the wild turkeys settled in Wisconsin, the DNR began trapping some of the birds and moving them to other areas of the state where conditions were right for them to thrive, David Drake said. professor of forest and wildlife ecology at UW-Madison.
“We’ve restored a lot of forest land across the state,” Drake said. “So the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources took turkeys from parts of the state where they were relatively abundant and moved them to parts of the state where they weren’t as abundant.”
Cities and suburbs are hospitable habitats for “opportunistic” turkeys
Even so, Drake said he was surprised by the resilience of the wild turkeys. When he studied wildlife management decades ago, he was taught that turkeys didn’t do well near large human population centers.
“A generation or two later, we’re teaching our students that turkeys are very, very urban species because they’re very opportunistic, and they adapt very well to that, you know, quickly changing the human-modified landscape,” he said.
Turkeys favor forest areas interspersed with open spaces and suburbs, with their abundance of sports grounds. Residential lawns and landscaped parks have proven ideal, Drake said.
Turkeys can also find many of their favorite foods — like insects, fruits, nuts and seeds from bird feeders — near where humans live, and they don’t have to worry much about them. their natural predators.
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For Evans, turkeys were a novelty when she moved from Kansas to Wisconsin to pursue a doctorate. in electrical and computer engineering. Birds are ubiquitous in his Madison neighborhood known as Eagle Heights. Evans came to see them as comical, but often disagreeable neighbors.
“You can stand anywhere in this neighborhood and do a slow 360 and there’s about a 95% chance you’ll see a turkey,” she said.
Once, Evans and his roommate were chased by a wild turkey through their apartment. A photo of the encounter, showing a turkey bumping into the building’s common room glass door, is posted on the Turkeys of UW Madison account.
“I think they’re all barking and not biting, like they can’t do much damage,” Evans said. “But I had no idea a turkey would be brave enough to hunt a normal-sized human.”
Despite some clashes, wild turkeys pose little threat to humans, biologist says
Wild turkeys are relatively large, with males weighing over 20 pounds. But Julie Widholm, a wildlife biologist covering Dane County for the DNR, says the birds pose little threat to humans.
Turkeys tend to be more aggressive during the spring mating season. Occasionally, a male will see his reflection in a car door and start pecking at his own image as if fighting a rival.
If you’re bothered by turkeys in your yard, Widholm suggests removing bird feeders and other food sources for at least a few weeks. And if a turkey doesn’t stray out of your way, Widholm says you shouldn’t be afraid to “hold your ground” by shouting, waving a broom or hosing the bird down with a garden hose.
Wisconsin allows people to hunt a limited number of turkeys in the spring. And, outside the hunting season, it is possible to apply for a permit from the MRN to allow the removal of turkeys deemed harmful. This is usually due to complaints of turkeys chasing humans, disrupting traffic or causing property damage, said Brad Koele, DNR wildlife damage coordinator.
This year, the DNR issued 22 such permits, which could allow turkeys to be moved or killed, Koele said.
People can apply for permits for private residences or businesses and many are given at airports, due to concerns about turkeys disrupting planes, Koele said.
Only three of the nuisance permits were granted to municipalities in 2022. In the town of Wauwatosa, where the abundant so-called “Tosa turkeys” have a love-hate relationship with locals, the city has brought in contractors to kill three “aggressive” turkeys before donating their meat to pantries, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Also this year, the city of Oshkosh killed four nuisance turkeys and donated their meat, and the village of Jackson obtained a nuisance permit but ultimately did not remove any turkeys, Koele said.
Although the turkeys in his Madison neighborhood can be scrappy, Evans considers it a treat to be around the birds.
“I’ve definitely heard people say, ‘Oh, they’re such ugly birds’ or ‘they’re so dirty’ or ‘they’re so dirty,'” she said. “I do not agree. I don’t take for granted how cool it is that we have this community where there are humans and these wild birds co-existing quite peacefully.”
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