South Jersey town fights wild turkey invasion

Turkeys do more than cross the road in Hainesport, where about 30 wild birds harass walkers and joggers.
Turkeys do more than cross the road in Hainesport, where about 30 wild birds harass walkers and joggers. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 26, 2012

In a semi-wooded Burlington County suburb, a flock of wild turkeys is harassing walkers and joggers who have been seen fighting back with a tennis racket, a hastily removed belt, a swinging handbag, and sticks.

For at least three years, a dozen turkeys have roamed the streets and lawns of Hainesport without incident, according to residents who enjoy watching them, and, in some cases, feeding them.

"They're part of what's happening here," said Ted Barto, whose horse and chicken farm and adjacent lawn are visited frequently by the 15- to 20-pound birds. "They don't bother me."

Barto acknowledged the turkeys help themselves to his animals' feed and sometimes try to chase him.

But when the flock grew to 30 strong this year and a tom turkey started attacking people on the town's new recreation trail, New Jersey wildlife officials received urgent calls.

A few weeks ago, the state Division of Fish and Wildlife sent one of its trappers to town to try to move the turkeys away from the suburb, which borders a state woodlands park and creek. So far, the trapper has failed.

The town, meanwhile, plans to ban feeding wild turkeys.

Melanie Morton, who has lived in Hainesport for more than two years, said she was not too alarmed when she first saw the turkeys in her neighborhood. Sometimes they would block Deacon Road, nibbling on car tires and ignoring humans' attempts to budge them with motor revving and honking.

"You would just have to sit and wait a few minutes," she said.

But a few weeks ago, during a Sunday drive, she watched in horror as a "tom turkey literally ran across the street at a jogger" and began "biting her leg and flying up toward her face."

Morton offered the jogger refuge in her car, but the young woman kept screaming and trying to get away.

"A father and son on bikes kept trying to ride up" to shoo the turkey, but it took about three minutes before the bird relented, she said.

Town Administrator Paul Tuliano said the turkeys apparently believe "you're invading their territory." He said the half-dozen complaints he recently received coincided with the completion of a 2.5-mile recreational trail across from the turkeys' stomping ground along Deacon Road.

Tuliano said the public works employees who mow the grass in that area also reported being bothered by the turkeys.

"There's a flock of about 30, and some have become aggressive," said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the wildlife division.

Wildlife officers recently gave Barto a bag of corn to set the bait out for the turkeys. When the birds assemble, the officers plan to use a rocket-propelled net to startle and trap them.

Hajna said they would be taken to a wildlife area in North Jersey.

Last fall, wildlife officers were summoned to West Deptford in Gloucester County to trap more than 100 turkeys that had appeared on lawns and were causing a nuisance. But their timing was off, and when they arrived, the turkeys could not be found. In January, they trapped about five in the vicinity of that community's Riverwinds golf course.

Rogue turkeys are terrorizing residents of suburbs across the country. Last month, the Boston Globe reported wild turkeys were menacing visitors at the Mount Auburn Cemetery by "chasing them, pecking at them, and going after baby strollers."

Residents of a San Jose, Calif., suburb complained that turkeys were standing on cars and scratching the paint, a behavior officials there attributed to the mating season. And, in a Detroit suburb, there were recent reports of a 69-year-old woman afraid to leave her home after a large, aggressive wild turkey stalked her, clucking at her whenever he saw her, and bumping into her torso. She had to put a broom by her door to fend it off.

"Turkeys are pretty common across New Jersey these days," Hajna said.

Wildlife officials say there now are about 30,000 turkeys statewide. They reintroduced the turkeys in 1977 when the indigenous species had practically vanished because of development and other encroachment.

"But, like other wildlife that comes into conflict with people, we sometimes have to take steps to remove them," Hajna said.

Barto said most of the turkeys had caused no trouble, even though one, apparently seeing its reflection, banged loudly on his glass door one night.

"But there is one misfit. He was the picked-on turkey, I guess," Barto said. "Something has to be done because he's going after kids on bicycles."

Carol Allison, a factory worker who lives on Deacon Road across from the trail and a sprawling field, said people were making too big a deal out of the turkeys' behavior. "There's one who likes to chase you and bite your tires. I swing my purse and he goes away," she said. Sometimes, she leaves a broom by the door.

Allison said she had never seen any of the turkeys attack anyone. She has been feeding them bread for three years.

"I love them. It's nature. I think the ordinance is ridiculous," she said of the proposed feeding ban.

But Morton, who lives around the corner, is expecting twins and worries the turkeys may attack her and her babies when she takes them out for a stroll.

"They need to get rid of them. They are dangerous," she said.

The proposed feeding ban, scheduled for a public hearing and final vote July 10, would impose a fine of up to $2,000 for a violation.


To view a video of wild turkeys in Hainesport, go to www.philly.com/turkeys.


Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224, jhefler@phillynews.com, or @JanHefler on Twitter. Read her blog at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz

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