TRAVERSE CITY — A pair of well-known wild turkeys hot-footed away from a state wildlife crew and escaped capture — at least for now.
Poll: Should state wildlife personnel relocate a pair of wild turkeys that have been known to spend days along the South Airport Road corridor?
Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials attempted and failed to catch a famous — or notorious — set of wild turkeys Monday afternoon after multiple calls to emergency services about clogged traffic. The plan was to relocate the traffic-blocking birds for the safety of both the famed gobblers and the local motoring public, officials said.
“We’ve gotten multiple calls for quite some time about the turkeys,” said Steve Griffith, DNR wildlife biologist.
Officials said Monday’s ordeal at the intersection of Garfield Avenue and South Airport Road is a result of motorists in Grand Traverse County exiting their vehicles in busy traffic to shoo the birds away faster than they are otherwise inclined to move on their own.
“We absolutely don’t want people getting out of their vehicles and into the road,” Griffith said. “We don’t want the turkeys to get hurt, but, more, we don’t want people to get hurt.”
The turkeys have been known in recent months to spend days along the South Airport Road corridor between Garfield Avenue and Park Drive. They’ve both delighted and aggravated drivers with their antics — crossing traffic in crosswalks, chasing each other around light poles and getting their feathers ruffled over trucks with snowplows.
There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to the turkeys and their escapades, filled with entertaining photographs and videos.
Leah Hornacek, deputy director for Grand Traverse County Central Dispatch, said the turkeys have caused traffic disruptions for a while and — until people began to exit their vehicles — state wildlife officials advised they should simply be left alone. People getting into traffic became the game-changer, she said.
“They do move out of the way eventually,” Hornacek said. “I know people aren’t wanting to wait, but they will move.”
Motorists need to stay inside their vehicles no matter what the turkeys are doing, she said.
That sentiment was echoed by Capt. Chris Clark of the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s department, who said it is unsafe for motorists to park a vehicle in traffic and get out to herd wildlife off the road. It’s not exactly legal, either.
“The best advice ... is to ensure you are following all traffic laws if you come in contact with the turkeys,” Clark said.
Linda Little, who is the administrator for the Traverse City Turkeys page on Facebook, said the social media account is meant to be a friendly, positive distraction for people who may otherwise find online content divisive and argumentative. The underlying message of the page is about kindness, she said, and also “remaining cool and calm.”
“There have been a couple of women who have run out into the street to chase the turkeys or protect them,” Little said. “That kind of stuff definitely doesn’t need to be going on.”
Griffith said it would be easier for state wildlife officials to euthanize the turkeys, but that option isn’t as palatable or agreeable to the public. That’s especially the case given these birds’ online popularity, he said.
“They are just doing what turkeys do,” Griffith said.
He said it’s possible the excitement of fleeing state wildlife workers on Monday will keep the turkeys out of busy traffic for a while, or encourage them to migrate elsewhere. A negative, harassing experience often can achieve that for wild animals, he said.
Griffith said state wildlife officials don’t currently have plans to attempt to trap the Traverse City turkeys again, but it remains a possibility. The plan would be to relocate the birds “a long way away,” he said.
Turkeys aren’t long-distance fliers and prefer to walk, typically flying only to take roost in the evenings or if they’re under threat. So if these birds were taken to the “far side of Kalkaska County,” for example, they would not make their way back, Griffith said.
Meanwhile, Hornacek said local motorists need to be more judicious about when they call 911. Traffic blocked by the turkeys isn’t an emergency, she said.
“Unless it’s a life-safety issue, a call to 911 isn’t warranted,” Hornacek said.
Emergency dispatchers typically receive about seven calls each day about the turkeys blocking traffic, though some days that figure climbs to 20 or 30. It’s even become problematic during actual emergencies, Hornacek said.
“There have been times we’ve had in-progress events and we are getting calls about these turkeys,” she said.
Hornacek said that, should motorists feel they must notify authorities about the turkeys in traffic, they should use the county’s non-emergency line at 231-922-4550.