Weehawken invaded by wild baby turkeys! Police, Humane Society can't capture wayward gobblers
by :Jim Hague
Apr 09, 2006 | 506 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Weehawken Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Fulcher has heard a lot of police calls during his 25-year career in law enforcement, but never one quite like the one he overheard while at his desk last Tuesday afternoon.

"I thought I heard the officers saying that they were trying to capture some wild turkeys," Fulcher said. "I didn't know what that meant."

Could it have been a slang term for a group of elusive criminals? Maybe "turkeys" is a new form of cop lingo? But not in this instance. This time, it was really turkeys - yes, the gobble, gobble variety - the kind that you would more readily find pictured on a bottle of bourbon.

At least four of the feathered felons were spotted at two different locations in Weehawken over a two-day period. The appeared at 50th Street and Boulevard East near the American Legion headquarters on Tuesday. After an attempt to corral the birds at that site became futile and unsuccessful, at least three turkeys were spotted in the backyard of two homes on Eldorado Place a day later.

"I remember that a deer made its way down from Bergen County and ended up on Boulevard East a few years ago, but I never before heard of turkeys," Fulcher said. "The deer was the most wildlife I remember. This was so different. Turkeys? In Weehawken? I knew people kept chickens, roosters and hens. But turkeys? That was a new one."

When the turkeys were first spotted, Weehawken police contacted the Humane Society of New Jersey office in Newark and the Animal Control Bureau.

However, none of them were able to corner the birds, so they remain, at press time, wild and on the loose in Weehawken.

"They're still out there," Fulcher said. "Beware of the turkeys."

They don't attack

But representatives from the New Jersey Wildlife Federation maintain that the wild turkeys are harmless and do not cause any danger to humans. They are docile animals and will not attack.

More than likely, these four or so probably strayed from a flock and are now lost. After viewing pictures of these birds, the Wildlife Federation called the birds of Weehawken "very young and obviously disoriented."

"They're not quite a year old, perhaps nine or 10 months old," said Bob Eriksen, the regional biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation New Jersey chapter. "At this time of the year, in the early spring, there is dispersal in the wild turkey population and the turkeys find themselves in places where they don't belong."

According to the National Wild Turkey Federation's website, the wild turkey not only differs in size, it also differs in personality from the domestic turkey.

Wild turkeys avoid humans. They can and will take flight to avoid them, while domestic varieties tolerate humans as their caretakers. Wild turkeys can fly at speeds up to 55 miles an hour. They are also adept at running, reaching speeds of 25 miles an hour.

There is now an abundance of wild turkeys throughout the state, with turkeys found wherever there is suitable habitat. Even in South Jersey, where wild turkeys had been struggling just a few years ago, intensive restoration efforts have improved population numbers significantly.

The population is estimated at anywhere between 20,000 to 23,000, with an annual harvest of more than 3,000.

If you see a turkey...

Eriksen offered some tips to Weehawken residents who might encounter the birds.

"Folks will see the birds and want to feed them," Eriksen said. "That is not a good idea, because it will prevent them from moving on. So people should not try to feed them. Also, people who don't have experience in trying to capture them should not attempt to capture them. It makes the whole situation harder. If you chase them around, they're only going to keep moving around."

So does Eriksen have a solution?

"My recommendation is to just leave them alone," Eriksen said. "Let them settle for a while and they'll find their way on their own. Dispersal like this happens all the time and sometimes it carries the wild turkeys to places where they don't want to be. It's a mistake to be chasing them around. Stay away from feeding them. They can't hurt you, but it's normal for the average urban dweller to get a little intimidated by birds that are three feet tall."

Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner said that there probably haven't been turkeys in Weehawken since the Dutch arrived in the township 200 years ago. He said that certified health inspector Vince Rivelli will inform residents about the newcomers about not feeding the birds.

"We have protocol to tell people what to do and what not to do," Turner said. "We've had to deal with raccoons, skunks, opossums, bees and geese, and now we have to deal with turkeys."

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