STATEN ISLAND JOURNAL
Article is Courtesy of the New York Times
Wild Turkeys Get a Taste of Domesticity, Much to a Borough’s Chagrin
Wild Turkeys Are Nuisance on Staten Island
KIRSTEN LUCE FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
By JOSEPH BERGER
NOVEMBER 4, 2011
Michael Budano is fearless. As a teenager in East Harlem, he polished the shoes of mobsters like Frank Costello and Joseph Valachi without blinking an eye.
But the unwelcome visitors that trot and strut around his Staten Island neighborhood do sometimes make him nervous.
“I had one under my car last week,” said Mr. Budano, 71, a retired traffic manager for the subways. “I had to chase him out with a broom. But they can become vicious.”
The creatures that have unnerved Mr. Budano, and many of his neighbors, are wild turkeys: scores of them have invaded the streets surrounding the South Beach Psychiatric Center on the eastern shore of Staten Island.
These are the urban sidewalks of New York, residents like to remind visitors, not some rustic patch of woods.
“In New York City you worry about roaches and rats, not turkeys,” Mr. Budano said.
One of his neighbors, Mary Jane Froese, 64, a hairdresser, was so worked up by the turkeys roosting in her red maple tree that she decided to gather evidence to back up her grievances. So she raked up their droppings and feathers, put the harvest in eight plastic bags and weighed the bags on her bathroom scale. The total came to 112 pounds.
“It’s not that I don’t want them,” Ms. Froese said. “I don’t want the amount of them.”
Even though flocks of turkeys are occasionally spotted in wooded areas around the city, the adjoining neighborhoods of Dongan Hills and South Beach are the only spot where wild turkeys have become a rampant nuisance, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation. There are at least 100 there, if not double that number.
Residents complain that the turkeys eat their shrubs and garden vegetables, frighten small children and snatch cookies out of their hands, wake families up before sunrise and cross the streets in indolent flocks that seem impervious to impatient drivers.
The fact that Thanksgiving is around the corner has elicited about as much compassion as the crows received in the Alfred Hitchcock horror movie “The Birds.”
When, determined to gather evidence, Mary Jane Froese raked up turkey droppings and feathers, her haul totaled 112 pounds.
KIRSTEN LUCE FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
“I hope they’re not the same species,” Fara D. Mitchell, 35, an elementary school teacher and lifelong Staten Islander, said of the birds and her holiday entree. Turkeys carved up for the holidays are breeds cultivated from the wild turkeys that were domesticated more than 100 years ago, but their descendants have been bred to have different features and are so heavy they are unable to fly.
So far the state has tried unsuccessfully to prevent hatching by searching out nests and smearing the eggs with corn oil. Residents have been advised to scare turkeys off with water hoses. Nothing has worked. A survey of 775 houses in the affected area, conducted by the state in January, found that 61 percent of respondents reported seeing turkeys daily, 57 percent feared striking one with their cars and about half said they had to clean up droppings.
The state has rejected efforts to transfer the flocks to more rural counties, where turkeys normally forage — but where the Staten Island flocks, officials fear, might not adjust well after acclimating to a human habitat. The Staten Island turkeys cannot be hunted, either, because they are protected with prescribed seasons and areas, none of which are within the city limits.
How wild turkeys got to Staten Island is a subject of contention. Residents often hark back to the sheep and vegetable farms that were prevalent on the island 50 years ago. But state officials insist that the turkeys are not indigenous and that in 2000, nine turkeys were deposited on the sprawling grounds of the psychiatric center “by a local resident who had held them in captivity.”
The turkeys have since multiplied and can be seen by the dozens foraging on the center’s broad lawns. The strawberry-red wattles under the turkeys’ chins and their iridescent feathers make them stand out from the Canada geese grazing nearby. The turkeys have also leaped or flown over the fences and now often roost in trees in the yards of private homes.
“I’m an animal lover, and I don’t want them killed for no reason,” Ms. Froese said as four brown-and-green-feathered turkeys sauntered by her sidewalk. “I want them placed somewhere else — upstate.”
Other Staten Islanders have similarly conflicted feelings. Connie Budano, who with her husband, Michael, moved to Staten Island 12 years ago from Brooklyn, said she enjoyed seeing the turkeys because they made her “feel like I’m on a farm somewhere.” Her husband even likes to show them off to their grandchildren when they visit, feeding them Cheerios.
But endearing as the birds can be, the bottom line, in Mr. Budano’s words, is they “make a mess.”
Kristin Fitzpatrick, a risk manager for Staten Island University Hospital who was having a cigarette break across from Mr. Budano’s home, called the turkeys “rude and slow” and said they “walk like idiots.”
Ms. Froese showed a reporter the backyard shrubs where four years ago she found 16 eggs, 13 of which hatched; the garden where her father no longer plants the tomatoes, zucchini and basil he cultivated for half a century; and the pine tree the family christened “Turkey Condo” because of the many roosting birds. Ms. Froese no longer plants cabbages on her property.
“I plant it, they eat it,” she said. “They’re pretty to look at, but I don’t want them living with me.”