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from Chicago Tribune


Wild turkeys raising a ruckus

Buffalo Grove residents want birds relocated

By John Keilman and Tom McCann
Tribune staff reporters

March 8, 2002

The intruder came before dawn Tuesday, waking the Horwitz household with a loud cackle. When Jeff Horwitz flung open his front door, he locked eyes with one of the prowlers who has Buffalo Grove residents aflutter.

It was a 3-foot-tall turkey.

"We both kind of looked at each other," Horwitz said Thursday. "If you read something into it, like it was a cartoon--it was like he was saying, `Can I come in?' "

In the last two weeks, turkeys have been sighted scurrying across Buffalo Grove streets, loitering on lawns and haunting front porches. Police say as many as nine birds have been traveling solo or in small flocks, apparently seeking soft-hearted homeowners.

"What these birds have been doing is tapping or knocking on doors, on windows," said Sgt. Scott Kristiansen. "They're trying to get people to come out there and feed them. ... So far they've been a nuisance, but they haven't yet run afoul of the law."

This is not normal behavior for wild birds, said Scott Garrow, a wildlife biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He believes they are game turkeys that were raised in captivity and released.

"You can't tell the difference by just looking at them, but their behavior gives them away. They are really rather stupid," Garrow said. "Wild turkeys don't hang out in back yards or stand around looking for handouts like these do. You'd be lucky to even catch a glimpse of a wild turkey."

Garrow said customers often buy game birds from breeders to stock local game preserves or to serve as pets on farms. But occasionally people have released the turkeys into state parks after growing tired of them; several years ago, a dozen turkeys were set free at the Morton Arboretum, Garrow said.

"Some misguided individuals released them, even though they probably didn't realize it was illegal," Garrow said. "You can't just let them fly off into the wild. They'd be dead meat."

The bird on Horwitz's street may be a little more clever. It spent several days at Gina Sheade's house, relaxing on the deck and roosting in a tree. Tuesday night, Sheade said, three squad cars and a police van closed in on the scene. Out came six officers, she said, bent on snaring the bird in a blanket.

But the turkey outran the officers. After about a half-hour of tomfoolery, it flew into a tree for the night, Sheade said.

Late Thursday, police said they would call in a trapper the next time they come across one of the birds.

But the turkeys may be living on borrowed time. Garrow said such game birds have nasty, brutish and short lives in the wild. If coyotes are around, as they are in Buffalo Grove, the birds probably will soon become targets.

There's little chance the birds will stay in the village, Garrow said, because they rarely breed and are unable to establish flocks. He is worried that game turkeys could spread diseases to the area's wild turkey population, which the DNR has tried to re-establish in Illinois.

The bird that hung out with Horwitz and Sheade disappeared Wednesday morning, but Sheade hopes it will resurface and be sent to a safe home. While she and her family got a kick out of the turkey, its messy ways and predawn, high-volume gobbling won't be missed.

"I think if I see a turkey in the future I'll just walk the other way," she said.

Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune

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