Talking Turkey

Two male turkeys show off their plumage for a female in the Longenecker Horticultural Gardens at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum during spring on May 3, 2020.

If you’ve lived in the Eagle Heights or University Houses area for any extent of time, you’ve no doubt met our growing flock of turkeys. According to wildlife experts, our mix of nearby woods, ample food, and low levels of natural predators is perfect for their population growth. Most of the year, we all get along fine, and the turkeys add to the unique nature of our community. They even have their own Instagram page! (@turkeys_of_uw_madison)

But, come spring, things change a bit. In short, love is in the air, and for several weeks between February and April, the mature male turkeys (known as ‘toms’ or ‘gobblers’) are biologically compelled to exhibit dominance and attract the attention of the ladies (hens). They can become more aggressive, but they don’t pose much real threat to humans.

Even so, it’s best – for both turkeys and residents – to avoid conflict during the spring mating season. Here are some tips for doing so:

  • Don’t feed them (turkeys, by the way, love the contents of most bird feeders).
  • Keep children and pets away from them.
  • If confronted by an aggressive bird, make yourself as big, loud, and scary as possible.
  • Shoo problematic poultry away with an item that won’t harm the bird, like a broom.
  • Don’t run away; a strutting tom may interpret that as submissive behavior and give chase.

Dealing with turkey mating season can be a bit bothersome, but it doesn’t last too long. In my opinion, it’s not a bad trade-off for the benefits of enjoying the company of these generally harmless and interesting birds the rest of the year

Submitted by University Apartments Community Police Officer Jeff Kirchman