As turkeys take over campus, some colleges are more grateful than others

MINNEAPOLIS — They lounge next to bike racks and outside dormitories. They’re walking across Harvard Yard. And yes, they occasionally fan out and attack 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 taken up college. And they seem to like it. Maybe too much.

Once rare in most of the United States, turkeys became one of the great conservation success stories of the past half century. But as efforts to expand the birds’ range into rural areas flourished, the turkeys also trotted to cities, resting in alleys, parks, backyards and, increasingly, higher education institutions.

“College campuses are just an ideal habitat,” said David Drake, a professor and wildlife specialist at the University of Wisconsin, where a large herd likes to hang out near apartments for graduate students. “You have this mixture of wooded areas with open lawns and things like that. Nobody hunts.”

It’s a good life for a big bird. In Minnesota, turkeys this month ate small berries near the sorority and strolled the sidewalk, unfazed as students meandered past them. Tom Ritzer, the university’s deputy director of land management, said a flock of turkeys, also known as a truss, sometimes tore up a planting bed, causing damage. But at other times, excessive foraging of turkeys alerts field rangers to a larval infestation.

“It’s kind of a blessing and a curse,” said Mr. Ritzer, a 22-year veteran of the university, who said large numbers of turkeys have shown up in recent years. “I think it’s probably better than coyotes,” he added.

In many colleges, the turkeys have become minor celebrities. Instagram accounts celebrating the birds have loyal followings in Wisconsin, where they have been photographed in playgrounds and parking lots, and in Minnesota, where a bird was caught moaning through the window of a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant just off campus. squinted.

“It’s almost our campus dog,” said Amanda Ichel, who runs the @turkeysofumn Instagram page with her classmate Paige Robinson. Most of the photos they post are submitted by fellow students, but only the best make it.

“We have dozens of direct messages from photos and videos that we haven’t posted yet,” said Ms. Robinson, a sophomore who said she only saw turkeys in zoos growing up on Long Island and was entranced when they seemed to change. all over Minneapolis.

Living with collegiate poultry is not always easy. At California Polytechnic State University, campus police are occasionally called about turkeys chasing people. Two years ago at the University of Michigan, a state wildlife officer killed a well-known turkey alleged to be harassing motorcyclists and joggers. And in Wisconsin, Dr. Drake that at least a few aggressive toms were put down after repeatedly terrifying students.

Even for fans of the turkeys, being chased can be terrifying.

“There’s an element of humor because oh, it’s a turkey,” Audrey Evans, a doctoral student in Wisconsin who runs @turkeys_of_your_madison, said on Instagram. “But your fight-or-flight instinct kicks in.”

Whether turkeys prefer campus life over other urban environments is up for debate.

Richard Pollack, a Harvard bird watcher, said turkeys regularly held up traffic on the streets around campus and are known for pecking at the hubcaps of cars. Once, he said, a turkey made its way into an academic building through an open door before stepping out again without incident.

But turkeys seem to be everywhere in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard, and Dr. Pollack said the birds may be even more ubiquitous off campus.

“I don’t know if turkeys are necessarily more abundant or if they visit campuses more often than in other areas,” says Dr. Pollack, the university’s senior environmental health officer. But because of the wide-open areas and heavy foot traffic, he said, “people are more likely to see them” on campus.

They certainly see it. In Sacramento State, an opinion writer for the student newspaper once wrote a column urging acceptance of the birds. At Fairfield University in Connecticut, where a sleeping Twitter account once written on the campus bar, the birds are a point of pride. And at Lane Community College in Oregon, there is an official campus policy for turkeys, which is that they are “not fed intentionally or unintentionally.”

There is little formal research on college turkeys, but campus after campus is generally agreed that their numbers have exploded over the past decade.

Alex Jones, who manages the Campus Natural Reserve in California’s Santa Cruz, said he’d never seen a turkey as a student there in the 1990s. Now they are everywhere, sometimes in groups of dozens: outside dining rooms, on the branches of redwoods and, very often, on streets that block traffic.

“I think the funniest thing is that sometimes they take the crosswalk,” Mr. Jones said.

It makes sense for the turkeys to feel at home, Mr. Jones said. The Santa Cruz campus encompasses large wooded areas and grasslands and borders state forests. The absence of fighters probably helps too.

At Harvard, Dr. Pollack said he also understood why the birds kept coming back, although building managers have been known to complain about the sheer amount of droppings they leave behind.

“If I were a turkey, I’d probably love the courtyards and the huge Harvard Yard itself,” said Dr. pollack. “Lots of food. Lots to see.”

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