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Turkeys wear out welcome in Newton

A wild turkey wandered about in a Newton neighborhood. State officials say people must learn to live with the birds.

Judith Strull

A wild turkey wandered about in a Newton neighborhood. State officials say people must learn to live with the birds.

Frieda Dweck has taken her ongoing battle with the wild turkeys of Newton to a new level. Night after night, she arms herself with a tennis racket and balls before heading outside to shoo the big birds out of the trees surrounding her home.

“I have a serious problem with turkey poop on my car, on my house, in my yard,” Dweck told state wildlife experts at a forum this week on the increasingly common conflicts with wildlife in suburbia. “It’s getting frustrating to have to do that every night.”

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“That’s first of all,” she continued. “Second of all, we have a lot of children who are walking to school who are now afraid to walk to school because the turkeys are coming after them. You can’t expect our children to walk to school with brooms and rakes in their hands to go after the turkeys. It’s not realistic.”

The novelty of seeing wildlife so close to Boston has worn off for most of the 40 people who attended the informational meeting Thursday at Newton City Hall. Some complained of aggressive groups of turkeys, while others wanted the city or state to curb the influx of coyotes blamed for the disappearance of cats across the city.

“I’m all for nature and all that, but this is what is left of my cat,” said Dan Proskauer, holding up a small wooden box containing the gnawed-through collar of his family’s 3-year-old cat, Zeus. “You say you can’t just get rid of the coyotes, but have we really tried?”

According to David Scarpitti and Laura Conlee, biologists with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the turkeys and coyotes are here to stay, so people must learn to live with them.

Their presentation included a display of pelts from wild animals common not just to Greater Boston but across Massachusetts: foxes, skunks, fishers, raccoons and, of course, coyotes.

“These animals are exceptionally well-adapted to living in modern society with a bounty of things to eat,” Conlee said. “This is not unique to Newton. I get the same questions in Cambridge. I get the same questions in Brookline and in East Boston.”

Wild turkeys had been extinct in Massachusetts since the 1850s but were reintroduced to the Berkshires from New York between 1972 and 1973, Scarpitti said. Since then, the population has spread statewide and is estimated to be about 30,000.

“These animals are part of the landscape now,” Scarpitti said. “If you remove 10 turkeys from someone’s yard, that is just putting a finger in the dam. But people can limit their exposure by doing the right things to their yards and changing their behavior.”

Turkeys, which roost at night in trees, on garages, sheds and even car tops, like yards with bird feeders, compost bins, and unsecured trash.

Scarpitti said cleaning up the area near bird feeders and keeping lids on bins can make a yard less attractive, but suggested residents chase the turkeys away with clanging pots, the sweep of a broom, and even a blast from the garden hose.

Similar tactics work for coyotes, which have spread from the Great Plains to just about every state in the nation in the absence of other top predators, Conlee said.

Never feed wild animals, Conlee and Scarpitti said, and keep pets on leashes, supervised, or indoors.

Judith Strull, one of Dweck’s neighbors, was discouraged by the lack of action from officials.

“This is just disgusting,” she said after the meeting. “They are not going to do anything for the people. It’s live and let live for them. I mean, come on, if a dog were killing cats, Newton wouldn’t put up with it, but we have to live with the coyotes? And 30 turkeys on my lawn? Isn’t that a bit much?”

While Massachusetts permits the hunting of turkeys and coyotes, hunting is not allowed in densely populated Newton. Conlee urged residents to report threatening animals to police. The City of Newton also allows residents to report coyote sightings on its website.

Richard Tucker frequently hears the howls of coyotes near his Chestnut Hill home, which gets frequent and messy visits from the local flock of wild turkeys.

“We live near the Webster Conservation Area. The coyotes are right behind there, their den’s in the rock ledges where the old deer park used to be behind the Mary Baker Eddy House. I have a golden retriever and we were walking down there the other night. A neighbor warned me, ‘There are two coyotes down there. I just saw them,’ ” he recalled.

The next day, while raking leaves, Tucker spotted the hoard of gobblers coming too close for comfort. So he pulled out a whistle, gave it a blow and proceeded to chase the gang of birds with a rake into a nearby construction site. There, he changed tactics and hurled handfuls of gravel at the turkeys.

“Oh, they moved,” Tucker said, mimicking the turkey’s bobbing head.

“Just sort of slowly.”

Jose Martinez can be reached at martinezjose1@me.com.
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