Oak Bluffs police bean rampaging turkey

A police photo captured the turkey strutting his stuff on the porch. — Photo courtesy of Oak Bluffs Police

Oak Bluffs police officers Saturday used a bean bag shotgun to knock the stuffing out of an aggressive turkey that had run afoul of residents in the Hidden Cove Road neighborhood, where the big Tom attempted to rule the roost.

Lieutenant Tim Williamson said police were called to the neighborhood, located in the Major’s Cove subdivision, on several occasions for reports of turkeys harassing humans. In one instance, a turkey chased an elderly woman who tripped and fell and scraped her knee. “This turkey has been a menace in the neighborhood for at least a month or so,” Lieutenant Williamson said.

On Saturday at noon, police officer Jeffrey LaBell received a call at the station from a resident who police would not identify. The man told police a wild turkey was on his front porch and, according to the police report, “was keeping him and his wife from entering their residence. [The man] explained the turkey is aggressive and has attacked people in the neighborhood in the past on several occasions. [The man] demanded that something be done before the turkey causes harm to someone in the neighborhood.”

The animal control officer is only authorized to deal with domestic, not wild animals. Environmental Police Sergeant Michael Camire was aware of the problem but was not available that day, Lieutenant Williamson said.

In his report, officer LaBell said he had responded to the neighborhood on at least three other occasion for complaints of a turkey attacking people. When he and officer Derek Back left the police station for Hidden Cove, Tom’s goose was cooked.

Less is more

The officers met the couple in the driveway of their home. The turkey was sitting on the deck outside the front door. The couple asked officer LaBell to kill the turkey.

“Considering that I have responded to this area for similar complaints, and the fact I have personally been attacked by this turkey on one occasion, I determined the best course of action would be to euthanize the turkey so it would no longer pose a risk to public safety,” officer LaBell said in his report.

As the officers approached, the turkey flew off the deck. They herded it to the yard of an unoccupied house where it took refuge on the driveway. Perhaps mindful of the public cackling that followed an incident in June 2008 when a Chilmark police officer fired five bullets from his Glock 40-cal semi-auto service pistol into a charging turkey, officer LaBell settled on blunt force trauma as the best method for dispatching the bird.

Many Island police departments have 12-gauge shotguns converted to fire bean bags in their arsenals. The weapons are considered an important tool to stop a volatile situation from escalating. The bags are fired at 280 feet per second, and provide a whack comparable to being hit by a major league pitcher’s fastball, according to one report.

“Due to the close proximity of houses in the neighborhood, I determined the safest course of action would be to euthanize the turkey with a less-lethal shotgun,” Mr. LaBell said.

“Officer Back and I then deployed the less-lethal shotguns from our respective cruisers and approached the turkey. I fired one round which struck the turkey and officer Back fired two rounds which also struck the turkey. Within several moments the turkey was deceased.”

The grateful homeowners thanked the officers for remedying the situation, and provided two trash bags to remove the turkey.

“Officer Back and I completed Use of Force reports after returning to the station,” officer LaBell said.

Headline bonanza

Oak Bluffs is not alone when it comes to vexing turkeys. Reports of aggressive turkeys have provided a welcome break for headline editors tired of seeing the words “fiscal cliff.”

On December 7, a CBS News report carried the headline, “Wild turkeys terrorize Massachusetts town residents.”

Local CBS station WBZ in Boston reported that three large male turkeys seem to be leading the assault in Brookline. A meeting was held December 6 at the Brookline Police Station to discuss the poultry problem.

Brookline Animal Control Officer Pierre Verrier told reporters he gets calls almost every day to help shoo away the turkeys, and that he spends almost every morning shooing the birds away from Brookline High School students. Other people have reported trying to go to work and being chased by the turkeys.

And across the country in California, a Marin Independent Journal story, “Tough turkeys run amok in Marin,” described a band of pesky gobblers “scratching, pecking and smashing plants, crops and lawns across Marin.”

Give no comfort

Vineyard legend has it that the Island’s wild turkeys are descended from escapees from some long-lost domestic turkey farm. However, according to Gus Ben David, one of the Island’s foremost bird experts, the turkeys roaming around the Vineyard came from wild turkey stock raised on game farms and transported to the Island by various individuals.

Turkeys have it pretty good on the Island. David Scarpitti, Mass Wildlife wild turkey and upland game project leader, told The Times in a telephone conversation, that the Island habitat provides an ample source of food, and freedom from many natural predators found on the mainland.

The fact that the turkeys do not exhibit their natural wariness has much to do with their proximity to humans. “They just don’t have that flight instinct, they just have become so accustomed to people being around them,” he said.

Mr. Scarpitti said problem turkeys begin with the availability of an easily accessible food source. It may begin with one or two turkeys gathering around a bird feeder. But over time the numbers grow and turkeys incorporate humans into their daily life.

Wild turkeys live in flocks organized by “pecking order,” a social system in which some birds dominate, or peck on, birds of lesser social status. “Humans become part of that dominance hierarchy,” Mr. Scarpitti said.

The way to keep turkeys in their place is to keep them from getting comfortable. It begins with removing sources of food and harassing turkeys that may stray into the yard, using a water hose, loud noises or a large dog on a lease.

“Just anything to get them out of that cycle of thinking that a populated area like a neighborhood is a safe secure place for them to live, particularly too if you can target those places where they are roosting,” Mr. Scarpitti said.

When all else fails, Mr. Scarpitti said people should contact their local police, or the Mass Environmental Police. Depending on the circumstances, he said local police may act to protect public safety.

Male turkeys, known as “toms,” weigh about 16 to 24 pounds. Females, called hens, are smaller — about 9 to 12 pounds.

Mr. Scarpitti said that although turkeys are a large bird and can be intimidating, it is “extremely rare” for a turkey to cause serious harm to a human, relative to other types of wildlife.

Mass Wildlife advises people not to hesitate “to scare or threaten a bold, aggressive turkey with loud noises, swatting with a broom or water sprayed from a hose.”

But it adds, “Your efforts will be futile if neighbors are providing food for turkeys or neglecting to act boldly towards the birds. It requires the efforts of the entire neighborhood to help keep wild turkeys wild.”