Angry Birds

What you need to know about turkeys this Thanksgiving season.


Turkey Photo via Shutterstock

Turkeys: They’re delicious with cranberry sauce and stuffing, yes. But in Boston and its suburbs, turkeys are thugs. They strut around in gangs, menacing small children and old ladies, loitering on public sidewalks and streets like a bunch of greasers with cigarette packs rolled up in their sleeves. In the past few years, as their numbers have grown in Brookline, Cambridge, and even Southie, ill-tempered turkeys have attacked cars, cops, and plate-glass windows with disastrous results. They’re basically velociraptors with feathers—and they could be coming to your neighborhood next. But with a little knowledge, you can protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of an encounter. Here’s what you need to know.

1. They’re really New Yorkers.

Real Massachusetts turkeys are extinct: The last native turkey died in 1851, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife. In the early 1970s, biologists released 37 birds imported from New York; today their population is estimated at 18,000 statewide.

2. They have an attitude problem.

“What they’re trying to do is intimidate,” says Dave Scarpitti, a game biologist with the DFW. Turkeys are constantly jockeying for power, he says, like a poultry version of The Wire. Facing down a human is a good way to impress one’s fellow turkeys, Scarpitti adds. “That turkey retains its dominance within the flock.”

3. They’re smart…

Turkeys learn from observing one another, and recognize individual calls. They can memorize a detailed map of their territory, and they’re capable of planning ahead. In one neighborhood, Scarpitti says, turkeys had the forethought to show up only on trash day, so they could pick through the leftovers.

4. …but not that smart.

Turkeys will attack shiny things, like windows and hubcaps. “In spring, reflections are a big thing,” Scarpitti says. “They think they’re seeing another turkey and they start pecking.”

5. They can put the hurt on you.

At 25 pounds and 4 feet tall, witha wingspan of nearly 6 feet, male turkeys are powerful animals. They’re equipped with sharp bony spurs above their ankles, and their powerful wings,built to fly at up to 55 miles per hour,“can be kind of dangerous, if you’re getting contact in the face with that,” Scarpitti says.

6. The best defense is a good offense.

If you feel threatened by a turkey, call the police, Scarpitti advises. But if you have to throw down with a bird, it’s important not to let it see your fear. “You should make the environment as threatening and uncomfortable as possible,” Scarpitti says. “Give them the message that, ‘No, you are not a more dominant animal than me.’”