By Mike Reddy
BU News Service
This story was previously published in the Brookline Tab.
Nomi Burstein was walking her daughter to kindergarten when she was interrupted by something big and dark flying overhead, landing behind a nearby house. Moments later, she heard what sounded like someone screaming coming from that direction.
Thinking the animal was a hawk, Burstein decided to wait to see what would happen. Before long, a wild turkey hopped the house’s fence, screamed again and proceeded to walk a line of chicks across the street.
Moments like these are familiar in Brookline, as turkey sightings have steadily increased since the birds — which had gone extinct in Massachusetts in 1851 — were reintroduced to the state by MassWildlife in the 1970s.
Although the turkeys have become a normal part of Brookline living, not everyone is fond of them. In the past five years, Brookline Police Department dispatchers have logged nearly 375 calls classified as “turkey complaints.” So far, 2018 has had the fewest complaints — 19 as of Nov. 8.
Brookline Animal Control officer David Cheung said the reason for the decrease in turkey complaints might be twofold.
“The decrease could be a combination of both the call takers entering in a different classification and people being educated on when to call and when not to call the police,” Cheung said.
Although many calls are classified as turkey complaints, there are certainly more logged as an injured animal, animal complaint or animal/sick.
“The most frequent one [call] is they’re crossing the street, and then they’re blocking traffic,” Cheung said. “I tell people not to stop for the turkey and just slowly move past them.”
Although the number of complaints appears to be decreasing, from as many as roughly 96 in 2013 to the 19 so far this year, several residents said this does not mean they are growing any fonder of the birds.
Maureen Morgan, 79, has been living in Brookline for almost seven years now, and she called the Brookline Police on turkeys in both June and August of this year. Living among the turkeys, she said, has been horrendous.
“They can be vicious,” she said. “They go on other people’s lawns, they were over my window trying to peek in — I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me, we’ve got Peeping Toms for turkeys.’”
Others, like Philip Ashton-Rickardt, said that while the turkeys can be aggressive, he finds them amusing.
Ashton-Rickardt, who moved to Brookline from England just over a year ago, called the Brookline Police in July when a turkey tried to break into his house. The dispatcher logged the narrative of his call as, “turkey hitting his head against the glass attempting to enter the home…”
“I thought it was quite funny, slightly threatening and difficult to understand,” the 55-year-old said. “They’re just there, aren’t they? They’re not particularly productive — you can’t harvest anything from them, they’re not useful, and I think the town just tolerates them.”
Not all residents are calling and reporting the turkeys, though. Jim McGrath, 37, who teaches at Brown University, wrote in a tweet the turkeys are a “perk of living in Brookline.”
McGrath said he thinks the birds get a bad rap.
“They need new PR,” he said. “It does kind of take you back visually to the longer history of this region and of this neighborhood — it’s sort of a trace of the past that is kind of staring right back at you from your backyard or your front yard.”
McGrath, who has been living in Brookline for about a year and a half, said the biggest annoyance for him is having to clean up after the turkeys.
Nomi Burstein, who had the run-in with the turkeys on her walk to kindergarten with her daughter in June 2015, has been logging her interactions with the birds in a series of tweets she calls “The Daily Turkey.” The tweets are often liked and retweeted.
“I often post things that I find are amusing to myself, and I’m never sure whether they will resonate with other people,” she said. “I’m not quite sure why the turkeys have become so popular, but I think part of it is because I let people know where and when I saw them.”
Burstein, who has been living in Brookline for 23 years, said she takes a “live and let live” approach to the turkeys. She’s found it interesting to watch the turkey population grow and spread over the years.
Love or hate the turkeys, Cheung said he had a message for the people of Brookline:
“It’s very important that people know that they shouldn’t feed wildlife,” he said. “When they feed wildlife, the wildlife stays, and they populate.”