23 Nov 2022
Wild turkeys are ancestors of the domestic turkeys we eat on Thanksgiving. Understandably, wild turkeys avoid humans but in rare instances a male becomes aggressive toward people. This happens because turkeys are social birds.
Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) flocks have a social structure called a pecking order that’s especially important during the breeding season in March to May. Dominant males puff and strut and confront other males to maintain their own dominance. If a subordinate gets out of line the dominant turkey struts and gobbles at him, pecks him, or flies at him with spurs exposed. Notice the spur below.
A dominant male who is acclimated to people may mistake us as subordinates and try to put us in our place. Occasionally one becomes fixated on bicycles and the cyclists riding them(*).
In one case in Livermore, California an aggressive wild turkey made a motorist’s day. A policeman stopped a speeding driver and was going to issue a ticket but a wild turkey saw the motorcycle and challenged the police officer.
Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has advice on how to prevent wild turkey aggression toward people.
Aggressive behavior towards people occurs when turkeys have become overly comfortable in the presence of humans, usually over several months or even years, in areas where turkeys are fed. [For this reason] Never intentionally leave out food like bird seed or corn in attempts to help or view turkeys.— Spring Tips for Aggressive Turkeys
(*) p.s. I wonder if male turkeys that attack bicycles mistake the wheels for large fanned tail displays.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons, videos embedded from YouTube)