Mount Auburn Cemetery is known as a sanctuary for birds, coyotes, and other animals just steps from the bustle of Cambridge and Watertown, but after wild turkeys charged baby strollers and then attacked an employee, the cemetery called in the police.
Now cemetery officials are trying to explain why a large, aggressive turkey was shot and killed by an Environmental Police officer this month, and why another wild turkey was found dead at the cemetery in Cambridge last weekend.
“I just can’t understand this,” said wildlife photographer George McLean, who snapped a photo of the turkey, called Longfellow, before he was shot. “It wasn’t necessary.”
The large tom turkey that was shot had shown aggressive behavior that culminated with an attack that sent a cemetery employee to the hospital on May 14, said Bree Harvey, vice president of external affairs for Mount Auburn Cemetery. The cause of death for the second turkey remains unknown.
On May 14, the employee, who had just had knee surgery, came across the big bird, and tried to back away when it became aggressive. He tripped, fell backward, and the turkey jumped on him and scratched him, said Harvey. The employee hurt his knee in the fall and was taken to the hospital, she said. Police were called and they decided to kill the bird.
The deaths have led to a “firestorm” of e-mails and in some cases accusations that the cemetery was to blame for the demise of both birds, said Harvey. Cemetery officials have drafted a letter to send to the birding community in an effort to address the concerns.
“This is definitely not what we wanted to happen,” Harvey said.
Since the winter, Harvey said visitors to the cemetery have complained of turkeys chasing them, pecking at them, and going after baby strollers. Security guards at the cemetery have repeatedly fielded calls from visitors who felt threatened by the birds and needed assistance getting back to their vehicles, Harvey said.
At first, Harvey said, cemetery officials attributed the behavior to the mating season, but the problems have persisted.
Concerned about the safety of a number of elderly people who come to Mount Auburn Cemetery to visit gravesites, Harvey said the cemetery began consulting with the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife about what needed to be done. “We are a wildlife sanctuary, yes, and we don’t want anything drastic to happen to anything that is calling Mount Auburn home,” Harvey said. “However, we also feel a responsibility to protect all of our visitors.”
Harvey, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall, said the aggressive tom turkey’s head came up to her chest and he had come after her before, as well. She said she was able to flee to a vehicle and escape. “It was coming at me and it was going to attack me,” she said.
Wild turkeys have become common throughout the area in recent years, and reports of aggressive behavior are not unusual. “Wild turkeys are usually put down when they present a public safety risk,” said Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the state Executive Office Energy and Environmental Affairs, which oversees the Environmental Police and the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
The turkey at Mount Auburn was killed because it had attacked the employee and had been “very aggressive” with other people passing by, Zimmerman said. He said the reports of aggressive turkeys going after baby carriages at the cemetery were especially worrying.
Harvey said cemetery officials aren’t sure what happened to the second turkey, which was found dead on a road in the cemetery last weekend. She said the bird showed no signs of trauma, and was not killed by Environmental Police.
She said 14 turkey eggs have recently hatched at the cemetery, but only four of the chicks remain. Harvey said she suspects the missing baby turkeys have become victims of predators such as coyotes and foxes on the cemetery grounds.