Last week, the Internet was abuzz with news that a roving rafter of feral turkeys
– a hybrid of wild and domestic fowl, to be clear — have been disturbing the peace in a big way in decidedly non-rural Staten Island
: destroying gardens, pooping on lawns, causing traffic jams, and disturbing homeowners, many whom have their property damaged by the birds, with early morning sexy-time parties. I didn’t share this story when it first hit the wires as I didn’t want to upset poultry-sensitive readers as they were sitting down to chow down on their Thanksgiving birds.
Also, it’s not exactly breaking news.
The rapidly multiplying, marauding feral turkeys have been a “serious issue
” in the New York City borough for some years now although the birds' headache-inducing antics have just now started to make international headlines. The fact that the birds, which roost at the South Beach Psychiatric Center (not to be confused with the notorious, now-abandoned Willowbrook State School
because that would be just too perfect), have garnered so much media attention in recent days that the Staten Island Advance was prompted to chime in and declare: “Yes, world: Staten Island has turkey issues.”
As reported by the Advance, the turkeys first appeared decades ago on Staten Island’s East Shore before slowly making their way to other areas of the island where they loiter, gobble, and stop traffic. Still, it’s within the confines of the island’s East Shore neighborhoods, particularly those in close vicinity to the South Beach campus, where most of the Galliformes-related drama— the "turkeys eat their shrubs and garden vegetables, frighten small children and snatch cookies out of their hands, wake families up before sunrise and cross the streets in indolent flocks that seem impervious to impatient drivers" reported
the New York Times in 2011 — continues to occur.
Seventy-year-old Dongan Hills resident Barbara Laing and her neighbors (who happen to be mostly family members) have dealt with hundreds of gobblers and hens descending on their neighborhood for over a decade now — it all started after another East Shore resident allegedly dumped the first generation of offending turkeys on the grounds of the psychiatric hospital.
Barbara Laing takes a drag on a menthol cigarillo, maneuvering her maroon power chair between chalky piles of feral turkey feces strewn across the yard. Mr. Darcy, a teacup Yorkshire terrier in a skeleton jumpsuit, shivers by her feet, yipping as more and more turkeys, the ones responsible for the poop, perch on Laing’s leafless red maple.
The heavy turkeys sit in her flower beds, fatally smashing the petals. They feast on the increasingly meager fruits of Laing’s fig, pear, and cherry trees. Their waste so extensively litters the lawn that it gets caught in the wheels of Liang’s power chair and tracks into her house. The mailman, Wharton, has refused to deliver letters because there’s simply too much guano on the ground.
Laing tells Newsweek: “When the sun comes up, they all come down from the tree, screaming. Then, they walk all the way down to the psych center. And that’s where they hang out all day.” She adds: “We don’t get no help.”
There have, however, been numerous attempts, some failed and some successful, to "help" beleaguered North Shore residents cope with the aggressive turkeys. In 2007, the same year a Dongan Hills resident was arrested for firing bottle rockets at the birds, officials announced that they had found a "silver bullet" — coating unhatched eggs with vegetable oil during breeding season to prevent the embroyos from hatching. Given that the population of turkeys has only grown since 2007, it's safe to say that the scheme didn't pan out as planned.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has also provided homeowners with tips on how to keep the "filthy" and "horrible"
creatures, to quote one terrified East Shore resident, off of their lawns — tips that don't involve fireworks or illegal hunting (spraying them with garden hoses, not feeding them, etc.)
This past August, the US Department of Agriculture rounded up around 80 of the birds on the grounds of the psychiatric hospital with the full blessing of the DEC. After their capture, the birds were "Butterballed
" — or, to put it politely, sent off for “poultry processing” — although after public outcry, petitions,
and protests held by animal rights activists, about 30 of the turkeys were rescued and sent to live out their days at an animal sanctuary in the Catskills. A little more than a month later, another group of several dozen turkeys were captured, all of them killed.
Moving forward, officials are considering slaughtering the remaining birds and donating the meat to local food pantries — “if the meat tests fit for human consumption, it will be donated to charity,” a USDA spokesperson tells Newsweek — as an alternative to euthanizing them and discarding the bodies.
Many Staten Island residents such as Laing who have suffered extensive property damage from the turkeys but don’t want to seem them killed, wonder why the birds can’t just be rounded up and sent into the wild in lieu of the slaughterhouse. The short explanation? The offending fowl aren’t technically wild but wild/domestic hybrids. Releasing birds that have spent the entirety of their lives in an urban environment into the wild could be detrimental, even cruel.
One alternative that hasn’t been explored as far I know: Sending them down to the Drunken Monkey and letting Big Ang set them straight.
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