MINNEAPOLIS – They laze around bike parks and in front of hostels. They walk down Harvard Yard. And yes, they sometimes fan themselves with feathers and attack innocent students.
Across the country, from the shores of the University of Minnesota to the forests of the University of California, Santa Cruz, wild turkeys have gone to college. And they seem to like it. Maybe too much.
Once rare across much of the United States, turkeys have become one of the most successful conservation examples of the past half century. But as efforts to expand the range of birds in the countryside flourished, turkeys also trotted through the cities, lodging for nights in alleyways, parks, backyards and, increasingly, in higher education.
“College campuses are just the perfect habitat,” said David Drake, professor and wildlife specialist at the University of Wisconsin, where a large flock of students loves to hang out outside graduate apartments. “You have a mixture of forest areas with open lawns and the like. Nobody hunts. “
It’s a good life for a big bird. This month in Minnesota, turkeys ate tiny berries near a student union and strolled down the sidewalk, ignoring the high school students passing by. Tom Ritzer, the university’s deputy director of landscape care, said the flock of turkeys, also known as rafters, sometimes ripped open the garden bed and caused damage. But in other cases, overfeeding turkey warns growers of larval infestation.
“It’s kind of a blessing and curse,” said Mr Ritzer, a 22-year-old university veteran who said a large number of turkeys have begun to appear in the past few years. “I think it’s better than coyotes,” he added.
In many colleges, turkeys have become minor celebrities. Bird Instagram accounts have a loyal following in Wisconsin, where they were photographed in playgrounds and parking lots, and in Minnesota, where a bird was captured mournfully looking out of the window of a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant near campus.
“It’s almost like our campus pet,” said Amanda Ichel, who runs the @turkeysofumn Instagram page with her classmate Paige Robinson. Most of the photos they post are provided by fellow students, but only the best ones make the list.
“We have dozens of direct posts with photos and videos that we haven’t posted yet,” said Ms. Robinson, a sophomore who said she only saw turkeys in zoos when she was growing up on Long Island and was fascinated when they seemed to be turning. everywhere in Minneapolis.
Coexisting with a one-year bird is not always easy. At California Polytechnic University, the campus police station is sometimes contacted about turkeys stalking people. Two years ago, at the University of Michigan, a wildlife conservator killed a well-known Indian who allegedly harassed bikers and runners. And in Wisconsin, Dr. Drake said at least a couple of aggressive volumes were destroyed after students were repeatedly intimidated.
Even for turkey lovers, stalking can be scary.
“There is an element of humor because it’s a turkey,” said Audrey Evans, a doctoral student in Wisconsin who hosts @turkeys_of_uw_madison on Instagram. “But your instinct to fight or flight works.”
Whether turkeys prefer campus life over other urban settings has been the subject of some controversy.
Richard Pollack, who is a bird watcher at Harvard, said turkeys regularly block traffic on the streets around campus and are known to bite the hubcaps of cars. Once, according to him, a turkey made its way into the academic building through an open door, and then left without incident.
But turkeys seem to be all over the place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard, and Dr. Pollack said birds could be even more ubiquitous off campus.
“I don’t know if turkeys are necessarily more abundant, or if they are more common on campuses than elsewhere,” said Dr. Pollack, a senior university environmental scientist. But because of the wide open areas and heavy foot traffic, he says, “people are more likely to see them” on campus.
Of course they see them. In Sacramento, a student newspaper writer once wrote a column urging the adoption of birds. At the University of Connecticut, where inactive Twitter account Once mentioned about the rafters of the campus, birds are a source of pride. And Lane Community College in Oregon has an official campus policy for turkeys, which is “no intentional or inadvertent feeding” of them.
There is little formal research on college turkeys, but it is widely believed on campus by campus that their numbers have skyrocketed in the past decade or so.
Alex Jones, manager of Campus Natural Reserve in California, Santa Cruz, said he never saw a turkey as a student in the 1990s. Now they are everywhere, sometimes in groups of several dozen: outside dining rooms, on the branches of redwoods and often on streets that block traffic.
“The funny thing to me is that they sometimes walk on the crosswalk,” said Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones said turkeys feel right at home. The Santa Cruz campus includes large woodlands and grasslands and is bordered by state forests. Probably the absence of hunters also helps.
At Harvard, Dr. Pollack said he, too, understands why the birds keep returning, although building managers are known to complain about the sheer amount of droppings they leave behind.
“If I were a turkey, I would probably find that the courtyards and the huge Harvard Yard itself were really great places,” said Dr. Pollack. “Lots of food. There is something to see.”