As Turkey takes over campus, some colleges are more grateful than others
MINNEAPOLIS – They are resting next to the bike rack and outside the dorm. They are airing at Harvard Yard. And, yes, they are occasionally fanning their wings and blaming innocent students.
Across the country, from the riverbanks of the University of Minnesota to the forests of the University of California, Santa Cruz, wild turkeys have gone to college. And it looks like they like it. Maybe too much.
Once rare in much of the United States, the turkey has become one of the great conservation success stories of the past half century. But as efforts to expand the bird’s range flourished across the country, turkeys also moved into cities, roosting in streets, parks, backyards and, increasingly, institutions of higher learning.
“College campuses are just the ideal habitat, where a large flock of graduate students like to hang out near apartments for graduate students,” said David Drake, a professor and extension wildlife expert at the University of Wisconsin. With a mix of wild patches. No one is hunting.”
That’s a good life for a big bird. In Minnesota, turkeys munched on tiny berries and strolled the sidewalk near the student union this month, marveling as undergrads were caught behind them. Tom Ritzer, assistant director of the university’s landcare, said a flock of turkeys, also known as rafters, sometimes tear and damage a planting bed. But other times, excessive turkey foraging alerts groundkeepers to a serious infestation.
“It’s like a blessing and a curse,” said Mr. Ritzer, a 22-year veteran of the university, who said turkeys have started appearing in large numbers over the past several years. “I think it’s probably better than coyotes,” he said.
In many colleges, turkeys have become a minor figure. Instagram accounts celebrating the birds have loyal followers in Wisconsin, where they have been photographed on playgrounds and parking lots, and in Minnesota, where a bird was caught caressing the window of a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant outside campus Was.
“It’s almost like our campus pet,” said Amanda Eichel, who runs the @turkeysofumn Instagram page with her classmate Robinson. Most of the photos she posts are submitted by fellow students, but only the best make cuts.
“We have dozens of direct messages of pictures and videos that we haven’t posted yet,” said Ms Robinson, a hostess who said she had only seen turkeys in zoos growing up on Long Island and when they turned around. They were mesmerized when it appeared. Everywhere in Minneapolis.
Coexistence with collegiate poultry is not always easy. At California Polytechnic State University, the campus police department is sometimes referred to as turkeys chasing people. At the University of Michigan, a state wildlife official killed a famous turkey two years ago, which was said to annoy bikers and joggers. And in Wisconsin, Dr. Drake said at least some of the aggressive Toms were killed after repeatedly intimidating students.
The chase can be intimidating, even for turkey fans.
“There’s an element of humor, because, oh, it’s a turkey,” said Audrey Evans, a doctoral student in Wisconsin who runs @turkeys_of_uw_madison on Instagram. “But your fight-or-flight instinct kicks in.”
Whether turkeys prefer campus life to other urban settings is a matter of some debate.
Richard Pollack, a bird watcher at Harvard, said turkeys regularly block traffic on the streets around campus and have been known to peck at the hubcaps of cars. Once, he said, a turkey made its way into an academic building through an open door before exiting back without incident.
But turkeys seem to be everywhere in the Cambridge, Mass., home of Harvard, and Dr. Pollack said the birds may be even more ubiquitous than campus.
“I don’t know if turkeys are necessarily more abundant or if they visit campuses more often than in other areas,” said Dr. Pollack, the university’s senior environmental public health officer. But because of wide open areas and heavy foot traffic, he said, “people are more prone to see them on campus”.
They definitely see them. At Sacramento State, an opinion writer for a student newspaper once wrote a column urging the birds’ acceptance. at Fairfield University in Connecticut, where a inactive twitter account Once the complex is renovated, the birds are a matter of pride. And at Lane Community College in Oregon, there is an official campus policy on turkeys, namely “no willful or unintentional food shall be eaten” of them.
There is little formal study of college turkeys, but campus after campus, there is broad agreement that their numbers have exploded over the past decade.
Alex Jones, who manages the Campus Natural Reserve in Santa Cruz, Calif., said he never saw a turkey as a student in the 1990s. Now they are everywhere, sometimes in groups of dozens: outside dining halls, on branches of redwood trees and, often, blocking traffic on roads.
“The funniest thing for me is that they will crosswalk sometimes,” said Mr Jones.
It’s understandable that turkeys feel like home, Mr Jones said. The Santa Cruz complex includes large wooded areas and grasslands and borders the state’s forests. The absence of predators probably helps too.
At Harvard, Dr. Pollack said he also understands why the birds are coming back, even though building managers have been known to complain about the large amount of droppings they leave.
“If I were a turkey, I would probably find the courtyards and the expansive Harvard Yard a really great place,” Dr. Pollack said. “Lots of food. There’s so much to see.”
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