As turkeys take control of campus, some colleges are more grateful than others

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MINNEAPOLIS – They bask next to bicycle racks and outdoor dormitories. They strut through Harvard Yard. And, yes, they do sometimes fan their feathers and charge innocent students.

Across the country, from the shores of the University of Minnesota to the forests of the University of California at Santa Cruz, wild turkeys have gone to college. And they seem to like it. May be too much.

Once rare in much of the United States, turkeys have become one of the great conservation success stories of the past half century. But as efforts to expand the bird’s range flourished across the countryside, turkeys also trotted through towns, roosting in alleys, parks, backyards and, increasingly , in higher education institutions.

“College campuses are just an ideal habitat,” said David Drake, professor and wildlife extension specialist at the University of Wisconsin, where a large herd like to hang out near graduate student apartments. “You have this mix of wooded areas with open grassy areas and things like that. No one is hunting.

It’s a good life for a big bird. In Minnesota, turkeys munched on tiny berries near the student union this month and strolled the sidewalk, unfazed as undergraduates walked past. Tom Ritzer, the university’s deputy director for land maintenance, said a flock of turkeys, also known as a chevron, occasionally tore up a planting bed and caused damage. But other times, overfeeding turkeys alerts gardeners to a larval infestation.

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“It’s kind of a blessing and a curse,” said Mr Ritzer, a 22-year-old college veteran who said large numbers of turkeys have started to appear in recent years. “I guess it’s probably better than coyotes,” he added.

In many colleges, turkeys have become minor celebrities. Instagram accounts celebrating the birds have loyal followers in Wisconsin, where they were photographed on playgrounds and parking lots, and in Minnesota, where a bird was caught staring plaintively out the window of a Buffalo restaurant. Wild Wings just off campus.

“It’s almost like our pet on campus,” said Amanda Ichel, who along with her classmate Paige Robinson runs the @turkeysofumn Instagram page. Most of the photos they post are submitted by other students, but only the best are selected.

“We have dozens of direct messages of images and videos that we have not yet posted,” said Ms Robinson, a sophomore who said she only saw turkeys in zoos when she grew up on Long Island and was fascinated when they seemed to shoot. everywhere in Minneapolis.

Living with collegiate poultry is not always easy. At California Polytechnic State University, the campus police department is sometimes called in about turkeys chasing people. At the University of Michigan, a state wildlife officer two years ago killed a well-known turkey that was harassing bikers and joggers. And in Wisconsin, Dr Drake said at least two aggressive toms were shot after repeatedly scaring students.

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Even for turkey fans, getting chased can be scary.

“There’s an element of humor, because, oh, he’s a turkey,” said Audrey Evans, a PhD student in Wisconsin who runs @turkeys_of_uw_madison on Instagram. “But your fight or flight instinct kicks in.”

Whether turkeys prefer campus life to other urban settings is the subject of debate.

Richard Pollack, who monitors birds at Harvard, said turkeys regularly slow traffic on the streets around campus and have been known to peck the hubcaps of cars. Once, he said, a turkey entered a university building through an open door before exiting without incident.

But turkeys appear to be everywhere in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Harvard is located, and Dr Pollack said birds could be even more ubiquitous off campus.

“I’m not sure if turkeys are necessarily more abundant or if they frequent campuses more than other areas,” said Dr Pollack, senior environmental public health officer at the university. But because of the wide open spaces and heavy foot traffic, he said, “people are more likely to see them” on campus.

They certainly see them. In Sacramento state, an opinion writer for the student newspaper once wrote a column urging acceptance of birds. At Fairfield University in Connecticut, where a dormant Twitter account once chronicle of the campus chevron, the birds are a point of pride. And at Lane Community College in Oregon, there is an official campus turkey policy that “there must not be intentional or unintentional feeding.”

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There are few formal studies of college turkeys, but campus after campus, it is widely believed that their numbers have exploded over the past decade.

Alex Jones, who runs the California Campus Nature Reserve in Santa Cruz, said he had never seen a turkey as a student in the 1990s. Now they’re everywhere, sometimes in their numbers: outside dining rooms, on branches of redwoods and, often, in streets blocking traffic.

“The funniest thing for me is that they sometimes take the crosswalk,” Jones said.

It makes sense for the turkeys to feel at home, Mr Jones said. The Santa Cruz campus includes large wooded areas and meadows and borders the state forests. The lack of hunters probably helps too.

At Harvard, Dr Pollack said he too understands why birds keep coming back, even though building managers are known to complain about the stupendous amount of droppings they leave behind.

“If I were a turkey, I would probably find the backyards and the huge Harvard Yard itself to be a really great place,” Dr. Pollack said. “Lots of food. Lots to see.

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