Talkin’ Turkey

By: Officer Jeff Kirchman

Have you met our UW turkeys? University locales such as the Arboretum, Lakeshore Nature Preserve, Eagle Heights, and University Houses can be positively thick with these impressive birds at times — but you could potentially run into some just about anywhere on campus.

According to wildlife experts, our mix of nearby wooded areas, ample food supplies, and relatively low levels of natural predators is perfect for population growth. Most of the year, we all get along fine, and the turkeys add to the unique nature of our community. Some even have their own Instagram page!

But, come spring, things change a bit. In short, love is in the air, and for several weeks the mature male turkeys (known as ‘toms’ or ‘gobblers’) are biologically compelled to exhibit dominance and attract the attention of the ladies (hens). They can become more aggressive, resulting in calls to UWPD — but they don’t pose much real threat to adult humans.

Even so, it’s best – for both turkeys and residents – to avoid conflict during the spring mating season. Here are some tips for doing so:

  • Don’t feed them (turkeys, by the way, love the contents of most bird feeders).
  • Keep children and pets away from them.
  • If confronted by an aggressive bird, make yourself as big, loud, and scary as possible.
  • Shoo problematic poultry away with an item that won’t harm the bird, like a broom.
  • Don’t run away; a strutting tom may interpret that as submissive behavior and give chase.

Dealing with turkey mating season can be a bit bothersome, but it doesn’t last too long. In my opinion, it’s not a bad trade-off for the benefits of enjoying the company of these generally harmless and interesting birds the rest of the year.