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Please Don’t Feed The Turkeys – Talking Turkey With The State Expert

Turkeys on Main Street
Brian Tarcy
Written by Brian Tarcy

FALMOUTH – “It’s unfortunate,” said Dave Scarpitti, wildlife biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries And Wildlife. “We don’t want to remove these birds,” he said of the occasional removal of a turkey from an urban or suburban setting, such as downtown Falmouth.

“But it happens because some people say, ‘I like seeing the birds. I want to feed them.’ But not everyone likes the turkeys, and when the turkeys get overly aggressive, something has to be done. It’s not fair to others.”

That “something” in the case of the the turkeys that had taken over parts of the sidewalk, and sometimes Main Street in Falmouth, was the recent removal of the biggest male turkey and humanely euthanizing it, said Scarpitti.

“Removing that one bird will not remove them from the area,” he said, “but it will mitigate their behavior. By removing the most assertive and dominant animal, it does mitigate their behavior.”

“I don’t expect them to pick up and leave,” said Scarpitti, “but they should linger a little more on the fringe instead of being right in the middle of things.”

“It may seem callous, but this is what happens when people feed wild animals,” said Scarpitti.

The reason the bird was euthanized rather than moved to an area such as Crane Wildlife, as had been a likely outcome suggested previously to Cape Cod Wave, was that it is not helpful to move a problem animal from one neighborhood to another, said Scarpitti. “It was 100 percent the right thing to do,” he said.

Turkeys on Main Street

Turkeys on Falmouth’s Main Street

Crane Wildlife, 1,800-acres of undeveloped land, is surrounded by neighborhoods, said Scarpitti. Putting an aggressive bird habituated to people and easy food there would have just moved the problem, he said.

“It may seem callous, but this is what happens when people feed wild animals,” said Scarpitti.

As for the euthanized turkey, estimated to be four-feet-tall and 25 pounds, “Typically, no one gets to eat it,” said Scarpitti. “It gets disposed of. We can’t donate it to the food pantry. There’s no mechanism to do it,” he said. Neither the state nor hunters are allowed to donate wild animals to food pantries, he said.

According to Scarpitti, there have been issues with turkeys “in just about every community in Massachusetts. They’ve been on the outskirts of Boston, and downtown Boston.”

The necessity of removing a bird is decided on a case by case basis, he said.

 

WaveThe Fascinating History Of Turkeys In Massachusetts

“Turkeys were extinct in Massachusetts. For more than 100 years, there were no turkeys,” said Scarpitti. “It is believed that the last turkey killed in Massachusetts was in 1851.”

“New England was largely devoid of turkeys,” he said. “New England was mostly pastoral land, and there was unregulated hunting for both food and feathers.”

And so for more than a century there were no turkeys until 1973 when 38 turkeys were transplanted from Allegheny State Forest in Pennsylvania to Beartown State Forest in western Massachusetts, he said. Five or six years later, he said, the state began a trap and transplant program, bringing turkeys to other parts of the state.

Turkeys on Main Street

Downtown turkeys

“To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even born when we started transporting turkeys in the 1970s,” he said. But he knew the history and he said that there had been previous unsuccessful attempts to release captive-raised birds into the wild.

But moving wild turkeys was different, he said. Live trapping wild birds and quickly releasing them was successful and has been done over the years at 28 sites across the state, he said.

Turkeys were transported to two different sites on the Cape in the mid-1990s, said Scarpitti.

About 30 turkeys were brought to the National Seashore in Wellfleet, and 30 other turkeys were brought to what is now called the Joint Base Cape Cod on the Upper Cape, he said.

All Cape Cod turkeys originate from those 60 turkeys transported in the mid-1990s, which originated from the original 38 transplanted in 1973 to Beartown State Forest from Pennsylvania, said Scarpitti.

Turkeys, he said, “have a relatively small brain, good senses, acute vision and excellent hearing. Turkeys are habitat generalists,” he said, “and the turkey habitat on the Cape is very good.”

While the habitat is very good, some turkeys discovered that human neighborhoods often make their turkey lives much easier.

For one thing, Scarpitti pointed out, “everybody on the Cape seems to have a bird feeder.” Turkeys, he said, have discovered bird feeders, even if just for the seed that lands on the ground.

Turkeys, he said, are just like songbirds at the bird feeder except that they are four feet tall and weigh 20 to 25 pounds.

 

WaveUrban & Suburban Turkeys

“Downtown Falmouth is not the best turkey habitat in the world,” he said.

“At the root of it is food. Those turkeys wouldn’t be there if people weren’t feeding them,” he said. “They have to be getting some handouts.”

“This is unfortunately a fairly common occurrence,” he said. “The aggregation of turkeys in populated areas due to people feeding them. It’s not that they’re dependent on the food. But they’re reliant on it. They quit acting like wild animals and they become habituated to humans.”

Turkeys on Main Street

“Downtown Falmouth is not the best turkey habitat in the world.”

“They lose their wild nature, their innate fear of humans,” said Scarpitti.

And so when turkeys become used to humans they begin treat humans as part of the hierarchy, he said. “You are familiar with the term, ‘pecking order.’ That’s a literal term. The birds will peck at each other to establish their hierarchy,” he said.

And “their behavior towards humans is very similar to how they behave with their flock,” he said. “They see humans as a potential competitor, whether it’s for food or breeding rights to females.”

“For some people, they are not aggressive. But they are very brazen and try to act out their dominance among other people,” said Scarpitti. “I’ve gone into many areas where turkeys are habitually menacing towards people.”

“But I’m not afraid of turkeys and turkeys can sense that,” he said.

 

WaveWhat About The Mailman?

“Mailmen are often at the center of these issues,” said Scarpitti. “It makes sense if you think about it. Mailman are walking the route every single day. It’s a daily intruder on the turf of these animals. They see the mailman as an intruder moving in on their ground.”

Turkeys and mailman

“Mailmen are often at the center of these issues.”

And, said Scarpitti, “the color of the uniform, the blue white and red, are colors of display and demonstration to a turkey. In the spring, when turkeys are breeding, turkeys are very colorful. Colors evoke strong emotions with turkeys.”

Scarpitti said that sometimes action must be taken when turkeys become a public safety hazard. In Falmouth, he said, “there were issues with the mailman being harassed.”

He said he was “not directly involved but what our field staff relayed to me was that there was a group of turkeys lingering in the center of town. They were able to corner a couple of turkeys, grab the biggest one and remove it from the site. We want to give them the notion that they need to be more wary of humans.”

“If they could have grabbed a couple of turkeys, I probably would have preferred that,” he said. “Usually catching one or sometimes two does have a profound affect on their behavior.”

 

WaveThe Other Turkeys Will Be Fine

Asked if the other turkeys were sad that their leader was gone, he said, “That’s applying human emotions to wild animals. You might be able to make a better case on that with mammals.”

“This wasn’t a family group,” Scarpitti said of the turkeys in downtown Falmouth. “This is a bachelor group, if you will. They are not necessarily dependent on each other.”

“Removing one bird from the flock in no way compromises their survivability,” he said. It is simply hoped that it will modify their behavior, he said.

Scarpitti said he hopes that people will also modify their behavior, and quit feeding the turkeys.

 

— Brian Tarcy, Senior Turkey Correspondent

See also a lighter, less-informed take,  Falmouth Turkey Wars, Leader Captured But The Occupation Continues

and the heroic, The Turkey Wrangler Of Main Street – VIDEO

and the famous Turkeys Attack Mailman ‘Every Day’ – VIDEO

and a glimpse into this future that we now live in,  Wild Turkey With A Dozen Chicks – VIDEO

and, of course, the original,  The Turkey Gang of Falmouth

 

 

About the author

Brian Tarcy

Brian Tarcy

Brian Tarcy is co-founder of Cape Cod Wave. He is a longtime journalist who has written for the Boston Globe, Boston magazine, the Cape Cod Times and several other publications. He is also the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including books with celebrity athletes Cam Neely, Tom Glavine and Joe Theisman. His most recent book is, "ALMOST: 12 Electric Months Chasing A Silicon Valley Dream" with Hap Klopp,who created the iconic brand, The North Face. For more information see Briantarcy.com, Almostbook.com, and Whatzgonnahappen.com (NFL Picks).

8 Comments

    • Relocation may be too much of work but I’d rather see you say “humanely removed them and relocated them,” rather than “humanely euthanized the male turkey!”

  • At a time when the world as we know it seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, it is touching and endearing to think there are wild turkeys roaming the streets of Falmouth. That says more about the safety of your streets than any number of press releases from the Chamber of Comerce.

  • This is a totally absurd “solution”. Wildlife biologist?? Your degree might state that but the way you are dealing with our wild turkeys reveals you are merely an unlicensed and unregulated hunter. Shame on you!!

  • David Scarpitti, the wildlife biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, should be ashamed of himself. He and the other biologists killed an aggressive turkey? There are forests all over Massachusetts where that turkey could have continued to live, but killing it was just the simplest solution. Who is responsible for making this decision to KILL the bird? Who did this? Was it David Scarpitti? Was it his boss? I think the Falmouth Police Department should be called upon to investigate this incident for inhumane and cruel treatment to animals. It sounds as if we have a rogue employee or perhaps the entire division is involved. Jack Buckley is the director of Fisheries and Wildlife and should be contacted directly. Fisheries and Wildlife is a subdivision of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game which is under the direction of Commissioner George Peterson, Jr., which, in turn, is under the supervision of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, run by Secretary Matthew A. Beaton. I am going to contact all these people and everyone reading this is invited to do the same. Here is the website: http://www.mass.gov/eea/ The action of killing this defenseless turkey for no reason other than convenience should be reported to the proper authorities and should not go unpunished. Those responsible should be called upon to justify their actions and perhaps seek employment elsewhere.

  • I would like to direct my comment to Mr. Scarpitti – who seems to be the only true “turkey” in Falmouth! Especially because of his “brilliant” solution of euthanizing an animal merely because he “exists”. Obviously…YOU were the wrong person to consult regarding the problem because your “solution” makes absolutely NO sense!! There are other ways to solve this problem without doing so in such an inhumane manner. The Cape Wildlife Center may have provided
    the proper solution – and are there to “save” the animals – not destroy them. Mr. Scarpitti was obviously the wrong “contact” for this type of problem!! BTW….we’re ALL these animals euthanized? I guess we will really never know but hopefully will not again look to amateurs for solutions!

  • This page may explain Mr. Scarpitti’s solution to the turkey situation!

    NWTF – National Wild Turkey Federation – Central Massachusetts Chapter shared Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife’s photo.
    March 3 ·
    Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife’s photo.
    Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife
    March 3 ·
    Apply now for the Becoming an Outdoors Woman Mentored Turkey Hunt! This program is designed for adult women who are new to turkey hunting and want to learn more about it. The seminar is April 2 and the mentored hunt is May 2. For more info, visit: go.usa.gov/cwBpV

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