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Officials offer ‘turkey tips’ after reports of birds’ aggressive behavior

A pregnant Cambridge woman recently said she was attacked by a group of aggressive turkeys while out for a walk.
A pregnant Cambridge woman recently said she was attacked by a group of aggressive turkeys while out for a walk.(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File)

Turkey breeding season is in full-swing, which means the large birds can often become aggressive if they come into contact with humans.

To avoid any potential problems, state wildlife officials are reminding people of what to do if they find themselves face-to-face with any bad-tempered birds.

Following “inquiries and reports about turkeys acting aggressively towards people and pets,” officials from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife on Thursday sent out an email to residents offering information about how to prevent conflicts with turkeys.

"March through May is breeding season for wild turkeys and as a result, there is an increase in turkey activity all across the Commonwealth,” officials said in the e-mail. “Some turkeys may be seen acting aggressively by pecking, following, or exhibiting other intimidating behavior towards people.”

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According to MassWildlife, it’s the male turkeys that commonly try to intimidate humans this time of year. The birds, experts say, will puff out their feathers and fan their tails while making gobbling sounds to try to establish dominance.

“Wild turkeys live in flocks organized by pecking order. Each bird is dominant over or ‘pecks on’ birds of lesser social status,” officials wrote. “Turkeys may attempt to dominate or attack people that they view as subordinates, and this behavior is observed most often during breeding season.”

The notice to residents comes a few weeks after a pregnant Cambridge woman said she was attacked by a group of aggressive turkeys while out for a walk.

Kenda Carlson told the Globe last week that she started carrying around a large umbrella to fend off potential brushes with the birds after she was surrounded by turkeys that pecked at her legs, leaving visible welts.

Dave Scarpitti, MassWildlife’s turkey biologist, said that many of the behavioral issues turkeys exhibit stem from a single source: easy access to food provided by people, whether it’s intentional or not.

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“The best thing you can do to prevent conflicts with turkeys is to stop feeding them,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Scarpitti said giving the birds food can lead to “bold or aggressive behavior,” and once that is established in the birds, “it can be very difficult to change.”

The state recommends trying to scare off or threaten the birds by making loud noises, swatting them with a broom, or spraying them with a hose if one is available.

Using reflective tape, balloons, pinwheels, and other moving objects to keep turkeys off of your property is also recommended, but the results aren't always guaranteed, officials said.

Reports about aggressive turkeys — particularly in suburban neighborhoods — have been persistent in recent years.

In 2017, following an increase in run-ins between turkeys and residents across the region, state officials sent out an e-mail similar to the one issued Thursday to advise people on what to do if a hostile animal is in their midst.

“We’ve done this a couple times in the past . . . certainly as a result of a surge of reports and complaints from the public,” Scarpitti said in an e-mail to the Globe.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.