Kenda Carlson feels a little ridiculous walking everywhere while clutching a large golf umbrella — especially when there’s no rain in sight and more sunny spring days on the horizon.
But after the 35-year-old was aggressively attacked by a group of five wild turkeys in Cambridge recently, she knows it could be her best defense against the feathered animals.
“It’s the one thing I think I can do to make myself feel a bit more comfortable,” Carlson said. “I heard that the motion of opening up the umbrella in the face of a turkey might be enough to scare it away.”
Carlson, who is seven months pregnant, said she’s developed a “turkey phobia” after two separate incidents in a single week left her face-to-face with the boisterous birds — one more traumatizing than the other.
The run-ins add to the growing list of reports state and local officials have been fielding this month of turkeys acting hostile toward people.
“This is certainly the most common time frame when we are getting reports about turkey issues,” said David Scarpitti, a wildlife biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. “We are certainly feeling that and hearing that from the public.”
Many wild turkey reports involve the birds taking over streets and blocking traffic, or pecking at cars. But Carlson’s first experience, on April 2, was one that left her sobbing in a stranger’s kitchen with welts on her legs, as she tried to regain composure.
Carlson was walking on Reservoir Street around 6:30 p.m., when she noticed a large group of turkeys in a nearby yard. Then, just ahead of her, a second, smaller group of three turkeys lingered close to the sidewalk.
Carlson said, years ago, she was attacked by a goose while jogging. The bird flapped its wings at her, pecked her neck, and tore at her shirt. She said she later laughed about the incident with her friends.
But now, being seven months pregnant, she didn’t want to take any chances with the turkeys.
“I crossed the street to the other side,” she said in a telephone interview. “I was very, very concerned that if a turkey came after me the same way the goose did, I’d be on the ground and my pregnant belly wouldn’t be protected.”
As Carlson crossed the street, she suddenly noticed one of the turkeys from the second group walking toward her, the other two close behind.
Unsure of what to do, Carlson puffed up her chest and arms to look bigger — but she also became “frozen in a moment of panic.”
The birds got closer. Then they encircled her, she said. In an instant, two more had arrived.
“They were pecking at my legs,” Carlson recalled. “I was screaming bloody murder.”
Carlson said she began waving her arms, yelling, and kicking at the turkeys — anything to get them to leave her alone.
“I just could not get away,” she said. “I was trying to kick up my legs behind me to push them away, and then taking baby steps — screaming, hunched over, hovering over my belly.”
As the attack continued, a neighbor showed up and used a broom to swat away the birds. Two other people also came to her rescue, and she escaped.
“It felt like it lasted forever,” Carlson said.
One of the neighbors invited Carlson inside and gave her a glass of water. Carlson cried in the woman’s kitchen — sporting visible peck marks on her legs — before getting a ride home.
Carlson posted about the harrowing experience on Nextdoor, a social network for neighbors to share tips and alerts about things happening nearby.
“Be CAREFUL,” she wrote. “Especially if they are making direct eye contact with you.”
Carlson tried to put the incident behind her. But a week later, while on a morning walk near Fresh Pond Parkway, she was again approached by a pair of turkeys, one of which charged at her.
This time, she wasn’t attacked — but it was enough for her to contact state officials and ask for advice.
Carlson spoke with Scarpitti, the state wildlife biologist, who then reached out to Cambridge officials to discuss what steps to take, if any, about the combative birds.
“Anytime we have a situation like that, we take it very seriously,” he said. “If the situation presents itself and we can remove or capture the bird or birds, then we are going to do that.”
Scarpitti said this is a time of year when, because of the breeding season, there is often an uptick in turkey-related complaints.
According to the state’s website, “turkeys may attempt to dominate or attack people that they view as subordinates” during breeding season, which typically lasts from March through May.
“Once bold behavior is established, it can be very difficult to change,” the website says.
To be sure, these types of calls are nothing new.
Two years ago, Cambridge city councilors passed a policy order asking City Manager Louis DePasquale to speak with the Animal Commission about how to handle wildlife, after officials heard complaints from residents being “harassed by turkeys.”
In 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife put out a statewide notice urging residents to remain vigilant following “recent inquiries and reports from the public about turkeys acting aggressively towards people and pets.”
The state offers tips online “to prevent conflicts with turkeys,” including trying to scare or threaten them by making loud noises, swatting them with a broom, or spraying them with a hose.
But Scarpitti said the best thing residents can do is not feed them — intentionally or otherwise.
“It leads to all of these other behavioral issues that are problematic,” he said. “From aggressive behavior, to property damage, and so on and so forth. That’s always the message I am trying to preach. It’s the one thing sort of controlling the abundance of turkeys in most of these communities.”
While Carlson, who believes “peaceful cohabitation should be our end goal,” feels better prepared to fend off the creatures, she felt it was important to share her experience to help warn others.
“I am sort of a strong person, and I could not imagine if I were not able-bodied or in a wheelchair or if I had a child with me,” she said. “I want everyone to know there are some tips for staying safe.”