They’re here. They’re not for dinner. Get used to it.
Thanksgiving tidings have been spreading through the UW-Madison campus this week thanks to a few new avian visitors. Wild turkeys have been sighted in multiple places around campus and downtown. However, these turkeys will not be making an appearance on any tables come November.
Wild turkeys were once eradicated from the state due to over hunting and populations were only restabilized after multiple tries at reintroducing them, said UW-Madison avian expert Anna Pidgeon.
As a result, the birds are now protected and the Wisconsin turkey population has been on the rise in the last 15 years, pushing turkeys to make homes in more urban areas.
“There’s lower predators. There’s food sources like bird feeders in people’s gardens and people generally tend to leave them alone. We have dog leash laws so there’s lower pursuit by predators. They get all their needs met,” Pidgeon said.
She added the UW-Madison campus has aspects of an ideal turkey habitat as well. Urban areas with green space offer all the protection turkeys need, since natural predators are not as prevalent and trees provide a place to roost at night.
However, as turkeys explore campus, it is possible that they will increase contact with humans and other threats. Pidgeon said she heard stories of turkeys attacking UPS drivers, for example, and her sister was once confined to her garage while she waited for a male turkey to pass.
Luckily, Pidgeon said these incidents can be easily controlled. Turkeys will only become aggressive if they feel their territory or their mate is being encroached upon. Keeping a reasonable distance, especially if a turkey displays its feathers, helps humans avoid safety problems.
Wild animals have been able to coexist peacefully with students and faculty before, as evidenced by the fox family that moved in two years ago. Pidgeon said she hopes the same scenario can play out with the new turkeys.
“Some people think it makes the city more rich and more interesting to have turkeys around in addition to other wild species. To see turkeys foraging or see a hen and her poults is really something special,” Pidgeon said. “Something our parents and grandparents sure didn’t get to see in cities."