Turkey trouble: Calls reporting nuisance turkeys on the rise in N.H.

  • A flock of wild turkey roam a street in San Rafael, Calif., earlier this month. AP file

  • A brood of turkeys – mother with young – is seen in a New Hampshire backyard. Courtesy

  • A wild turkey is seen in a New Hampshire backyard in 2015. AP file

Monitor staff
Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Chances are, if you’re from New Hampshire, you’ve seen a turkey or two – and not just on the Thanksgiving table.

They seem to be everywhere: in the backyard, on the side of the highway, holding up traffic as they cross the road. Yet wild turkeys were practically extinct in the state by the 1960s due to overhunting. The population has rebounded to about 40,000 birds today, thanks to reintroduction efforts by the state’s Fish and Game Department.

But with more birds come more interactions with humans – and sometimes, more problems.

Nuisance calls for turkeys have been mostly increasing over the last five years, with the biggest number of calls – 72 – occurring last year. That’s three times the amount of calls – 22 – made in 2012, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services data.

So far, 38 nuisance calls have been received in 2017. In total, 276 complaints against troublesome turkeys have been made since.

The reason for the increase is simple, said Ted Walski, a turkey biologist for New Hampshire Fish & Game who spearheaded the bird’s comeback in the state: As development spreads and the population of birds increases, turkeys are more likely to interact with humans.

Add in the prevalence of bird feeders during the winter, when food is scarce for the birds, and the dwindling number of dairy farms in the state – popular turkey hangouts – and it’s no wonder you can find them in suburban and wooded areas alike, Walski said. Previously, the birds would flock to dairy farms and feast on the corn kernels left behind in cow manure.

“They’re adaptable birds,” he said. “New Hampshire’s the second most-wooded state in New England, and there’s woods in every city.”

People typically call their local animal control officer, or Fish and Game to report problems with turkey, whether the birds are rummaging through the trash, bothering a household pet, or just making a mess. Some people get alarmed simply when turkeys get close even if they don’t pose a problem.

Most of the calls stem from the state’s most populous counties, with Rockingham County residents making 53 calls over five years and Hillsborough County making 46 calls during that same period.

But the towns making the highest number of calls are more centrally located. Loudon has the highest number of calls per any municipality, making nine calls from 2012-17. Alton, Barnstead, Derry and Pembroke are tied for second with seven calls.

The USDA breaks the types of calls down into five categories: agriculture, human health and safety, natural resources, property damage and “no reference.” Of those types, property damage calls have been the most common, with 102 calls made in the last five years. Human health and safety comes in second, with 83 calls, and agricultural damage comes in third at 59.

David Allaben, director of the New Hampshire and Vermont USDA Wildlife Services division, said property damage calls usually come in two forms. In one instance, turkeys often damage vehicles by flying into them and scratching the paint; or, if they see something shiny reflected on the car – or their own reflection – they might attack it.

The other instance is a little closer to the earth – a large pack of turkeys (called a rafter, not a flock) leaves a lot of droppings, Allaben said. He estimated scat-related concerns probably made up a large amount of the human health and safety calls, too. Although turkeys can be aggressive during mating season or when they have chicks, there are few instances of them attacking humans, he said.

Agricultural damage complaints often come from farmers, Allaben said, particularly those who use silage pits. Silage, the ground-up corn farmers let ferment in an outdoor pit to feed their pigs, is also tasty to turkeys; the birds are not shy about shredding the plastic covers farmers use to protect the silage from the air, either.

The problem is that exposed silage tends to rot and mold, Allaben said. “So you gotta think that they’re threatening their crop in three, four different ways,” he said.

Allaben said the surefire way to stop seeing turkeys in your yard is to remove bird feeders once the winter season is over. If they persist, the department loans out equipment, like “scary eye balloons” (a large balloon with an eye on it that will temporarily spook birds) to pyrotechnics, a “firecracker, but more controlled” you can shoot into the air to scare the birds off.

Walski had a few ideas, too. “Pay kids to chase them with a broom,” he said. “Get your relative’s big dog on a long leash and put some fear into them.”

Or, since shooting guns near housing isn’t allowed: “Slingshots don’t make any noise.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)