When Turkeys Attack

  • By Ari Daniel
  • Posted 11.30.17
  • NOVA

Most wild turkeys are timid. But if one gets aggressive, what do you do?

Running Time: 02:36


When Turkeys Attack

Published November 30, 2017

Onscreen: It happened in a flash. This is a dramatic re-enactment of a turkey attack.

Debby Andell: I started to scoop the birdseed out that we feed the chickadees with and all the other smaller songbirds. All of a sudden, I heard sort of a loud cluck, getting louder and louder. Until I turned around and was alarmed. One particular aggressive turkey was very close to me. It did not bite my rear end, but it could have. I felt threatened, I yelled.

Onscreen: Over six million wild turkeys roam the United States. Most are timid and avoid humans. But not all of them.

Andell: I don't believe in killing turkeys, I don't eat meat myself, so I thought we had an understanding.

Wayne Petersen: As they have habituated themselves to the suburbs and even more urban situations, I don't want to say a mean streak in them comes out, but they no longer are completely fearful of people.

Onscreen: Which leads to all sorts of human-turkey interactions.

Petersen: They do kind of what they want, they wander around in people's yards. Literally strutting across the road and will often stop traffic.

Onscreen: And if wild turkeys see their reflection in a hubcap or window…

Petersen: They will become aggressive—they see themselves, they perceive this to be a competitor.

Onscreen: So they'll peck the car or the glass.

Andell: I believe that the turkey that came knocking on my glass door at work was the same turkey who had frightened me that time.

Onscreen: Wild turkeys didn't always roam so freely. By the mid-1800s, the birds had disappeared from some states due to hunting and deforestation. But since the 1970s, humans have helped them make a comeback.

Petersen: We're living with new neighbors.

Onscreen: Which means sooner or later, you're likely to run into a turkey. And if that turkey is one of the few aggressive ones, what do you do?

Petersen: You shouldn't back away from the turkey, or look like you're afraid of them. Stand your ground, flap your arms, and clap your hands, and run at it. They can be generally intimidated without too much problem.

Onscreen: Worst case—call the environmental police or local wildlife office. And never feed the turkeys. Or any wildlife for that matter. So what happened to Debby Andell that day?

Andell: I yelled, and people from the office came running out to help me. We all managed to shoo it away.

Onscreen: So this Thanksgiving, be safe.



Digital Producer
Ari Daniel
Editorial Review
Julia Cort
Production Assistance
Bella Solanot & Theresa Machemer
Special Thanks
Daryl Choa
Marion Larson
MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2017


Visuals & Videography
Bill Byrne/MassWildlife
Debby Andell
National Wild Turkey Federation
Ari Daniel
YouTube CC BY | BAJaney, James Duckworth, Zampano100
Wild Turkey Sounds
­National Wild Turkey Federation


(main image: wild turkey)
National Wild Turkey Federation

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