The Tosa Turkeys

I took this photo a few days ago in my local grocery store’s parking lot, where three wild turkeys stood guard near the entrance.

For a couple years now, a flock of wild turkeys has been strutting around the city where I live. The “sewer socialists” who ran Milwaukee a century ago set up an amazing system of public parks, filling the entire urban area with pockets of green space and also providing corridors for wildlife along river parkways that are lined with green space and connect many of the separate parks to each other.

These green-to-green connections have led wild animals to some highly unlikely places. Decades ago there was a deer downtown on State Street (basically the area now known as the “Deer District” surrounding the Milwaukee Bucks’ Fiserv Forum, in fact), and around fifteen years ago there was a bear up a tree right next to the freeway around Burleigh in Wauwatosa. (Public service for non-natives: BUR-lye, rhymes with “sky,” and WAH-wuh-TOE-suh, “toe” like the ones on your foot 🙂 ) We regularly see deer along the parkway near us. We’ve had foxes and coyotes in our neighborhood, and we’ve occasionally spotted lone wild turkeys in parking lots on Mayfair Road that back up to some railroad tracks that cross paths with one of the parkways.

But only in the last few years has this flock of turkeys appeared to settle in and put down some roots. The number of birds at any given time varies from two to seven, depending I suppose on what attractions may have pulled members away temporarily. But they do seem to be a cohesive group that slowly works its way around different neighborhoods in the area. 

The turkeys roam through people’s yards and cross streets with impunity. A group of seven held up rush-hour traffic at a busy intersection about two months ago, taking their sweet time almost as though they knew (and were reveling in!) the mayhem they were causing. Everyone was incredibly patient, though. No horns honking or motorists trying to squeeze around somehow. Even people far down the hill, who probably had no idea what was going on to hold up traffic, refrained from angrily honking their horns. Then again, maybe they knew what was up because it wasn’t the first time they’ve been stopped by a turkey crossing on the drive home from work.

My daughter looked out our kitchen window one morning this spring to see a single turkey strolling through our side yard. We live in a hilly, terraced neighborhood, and our yard is fenced. As my daughter watched, the turkey tired of our yard and flew up and over our fence into our neighbor’s yard. So even though I have never seen these birds fly, they clearly can when they feel like it. I was grateful our dog wasn’t outside at the time. Turkeys have some wicked-looking claws, and although I hope this one would have chosen “flight” over “fight,” I guess you never know what a wild animal is going to do.

Yet as far as I know, the turkeys have managed to coexist peacefully with everyone else. No injuries or property damage that I’ve heard of. People in my neighborhood seem bemused by and even fond of the turkeys. If you do an internet search for “Tosa Turkeys” you’ll find plenty of social-media photos and even some official news articles and video coverage.

At first it was just so amazing to encounter wild turkeys where you didn’t expect something like that to be. And now the feeling seems to be amused acceptance of . . . and possibly even respect for . . . the way these critters have so matter-of-factly established themselves as residents.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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6 Responses to The Tosa Turkeys

  1. Sally Cissna says:

    When we lived in Milwaukee, I loved the way one routinely sees wildlife, although I was always fearful of the reports of coyotes in the area. They will wipe out a feral cat population in a matter of days. Now that we live in Oshkosh B’gosh very near Lake Winnebego (Public service for non-natives – love this!!: aash-kaash B’gosh – The B’gosh is not requisite; And Wi-neh-BEi-go) we see fox and turkeys and cranes and herons daily.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, daily! I love it! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a heron around here. The one coyote I saw in our immediate neighborhood was very small and scraggly. In a way that’s similar to wiping out a feral cat population (which I didn’t know about, especially the “matter of days”!!!), the coyotes will snatch (and eat ???) small dogs right from people’s yards. So we’ve gotten some heads-up alerts on that danger over the years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mworfolk says:

        The coyotes in Vancouver’s Stanley Park have started to chase and bite humans—unusual behaviour to say the least. We all knew to keep our cats and small dogs inside in Vancouver, but I was never worried about getting chased or bitten by them!

        Now I live in a place with black bears and moose, and the occasional cougar, which is the most terrifying of animals to me. I’d rather run into a black bear; they are just as eager to get away from humans as we are to get away from them…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. mworfolk says:

    Great photo of the turkeys in traffic!

    I remember visiting Gabriola Island off the coast of British Columbia and watching the local feral turkey gang as they strutted around completely unconcerned with the locals and tourists. I managed to get a short video of them holding up traffic near the ferry landing—priceless 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought our Tosa turkeys were unusual, but it sounds like there are gangs of birds (“rafts” of turkeys is apparently the collective noun, which I learned today from a friend on Facebook) roaming everywhere.

      Liked by 1 person

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