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Neighbors cry 'fowl' as troublesome turkeys in Rocky River are euthanized

Posted at 6:01 PM, Feb 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-05 18:01:41-05

Two young male turkeys became the talk of the town in Rocky River after creating unsafe conditions for postal workers.

They have the city buzzing again now that they've been captured and euthanized by a state conservation officer Friday, ending a months long saga that frequently included mail carriers being harassed, and even attacked, by the wild birds.

Many people living in the turkeys’ home turf believe the situation could have ended differently.

The group of wild turkeys — called a rafter — began roaming Edgewood Drive, the area adjacent to the Rocky River Reservation, early last year, neighbors said. Even as the male birds continued to grow and become more aggressive, neighbors didn’t seem to have an issue.

“They were always around ever since they were babies, but they never bothered us,” said Michael Craig. “Maybe they were aggressive somewhere else, but I never saw them aggressive. I used to walk in between them all the time. They would just move out of the way.”

The seven turkeys would often sleep on the branches of a large tree near Craig’s home. Every day, the rafter would roam the street, plucking bugs, plants and the spilled bird seed the turkeys would find along their path. The two young males were the so-called ‘pack leaders’ and guided the hens to food sources.

Around November when the males had substantially grown, mail carriers would often be harassed and even attacked by the wild birds.

“They would chase the mail [carrier] up and down the street,” said Jim Engler. “He was actually trapped on my porch for 10 minutes. Every time he would make a move off of the porch, the turkeys would come toward him.”

People running across the Valley Parkway would also be harassed.

Conservation officials believe the turkeys had grown accustomed to humans and learned to associate them with food. It is believed that the turkeys thought the large bags the mail carriers had contained food. When food wasn’t provided, the turkeys would become aggressive, a DNR spokesperson said.

The city of Rocky River warned against, and later temporarily banned, outdoor bird feeders with the hopes that the turkeys would move on. Residents were also warned not to hand-feed the wildfowl.

“We get deer up here all the time. The deer would knock down the bird feeders and [the turkeys] would peck that up, sure,” Craig said. “Is that their main source of food? No.”

The problems only got worse for mail carriers, officials said. Conservation officers often escorted mail carriers along their routes, neighbors said. Conservation officers also tried scaring the wild birds away using non-harmful “bird bangers,” which emitted a sudden loud sound. The goal of the exercise was to re-instill the fear of humans in the turkeys, conservation officials said.

On Friday, a conservation officer was talking with a homeowner who had reported concerns about the group of turkeys. According to conservation officials, the two most troublesome turkeys began pecking on the woman’s leg and pulling on her clothing.

Then came the option of last resort. This time, there would be no presidential pardon. The conservation officer corralled the two young male turkeys and humanely euthanized them. The turkeys felt no pain, a DNR spokeswoman said.

“I didn’t think it was necessary. If anything, why didn’t they just take them… and let them go somewhere else and see if they do come back?” Craig said. “But to euthanize them, I think that’s a bit too far.”

A DNR spokesperson said relocating the birds would not have been an option for a number of reasons. If they were relocated to another wildlife area, the male turkeys would likely cause, in essence, a turf war with another rafter of turkeys. Plus, the wildfowl are known to roam and travel long distances. In addition, because the turkeys will forever associate humans with food, the birds would continue to remain aggressive with humans. Also, the male turkeys’ behavior would continue to grow more aggressive as the spring mating season drew near, the DNR spokesperson said.

“It’s too bad because [the turkeys] are just trying to live in their area,” Engler said. “If they’re not going to go away and you can’t get rid of them, I guess there’s not much you can do though.”

The rest of the rafter has not been seen since Friday. While he would gladly welcome the turkeys back, Craig said he sadly doesn’t expect them to do so.

“They were really fun to watch while it lasted,” Craig said.

Conservation officials said the turkey carcasses were donated to a wild bird rehabilitation center to feed some of its predatory birds.