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Turkeys are on the rise in Swampscott

A pair of turkeys cross the side yard of a home on Ocean Avenue in Swampscott. (Spenser R. Hasak)

SWAMPSCOTT — Turkeys are everywhere, and representatives from Mass Wildlife are warning residents of the birds’ “mob mentality.”

Swampscott residents and town officials say it appears turkeys are on the rise all over town, but according to Marion Larson, chief of information and education for Mass Wildlife, their mating season, March through May, is when the hormonal male birds “strut their stuff.” While the flocks of birds are a nuisance, the people of Swampscott don’t seem to mind, as long as they don’t become aggressive.

“This is just the time of year we see more of them,” said Marianne Speranza-Hartmann, chair of the Swampscott Board of Health. “The one thing about turkeys is they eat tons of ticks, which is a really good thing. Personally, I have no issues with them as long as no one is having issues with them being aggressive during their mating season.”

Maryanne Sheckman, a longtime Swampscott resident who currently lives on Dale Street, said she remembers nearly 40 turkeys walking and gobbling down her street last year. This year is no different, she said, and she is seeing them “absolutely everywhere.”

“They are hysterical to watch,” Sheckman said. “I was trying to get to work one morning and I backed out of the driveway and had one on either side. They stared and gawked at me after I asked them to move … People don’t seem to like them but how can you complain about a bird? They don’t scare me at all, but I also don’t get close enough to them because I respect them.”

Why do certain turkeys become so aggressive during this time of year? According to Larson, the birds’ hormones are raging and the males are more inclined to establish dominance, even with humans. The birds do so by puffing out their feathers.

“They are trying to figure out who is who in the pecking order and sometimes that includes people,” Larson said. “Sometimes one bird starts being aggressive and the others follow their lead. The mob mentality takes over until you take out the rogue bird. When a turkey starts feeling in charge of people, you can’t retrain them and that behavior can’t be changed.”

The wild birds live in flocks organized by pecking order, Larson said, and each bird is dominant over or “pecks on” birds of lesser social status. When turkeys attempt to attack people during breeding season, it is because they view them as subordinates.

Turkey aggression usually happens after they become too comfortable with human presence, Larson said. Mass Wildlife recommends people do not feed, or leave food out for, the turkeys and avoid using bird feeders during their breeding season.

If an aggressive turkey is coming your way, Mass Wildlife suggests you scare it with loud noises or water sprayed from a hose. Effective turkey deterrents also include a leashed dog, Mylar Tape, balloons, or pinwheels around your property.

“We have seen an uptick in them being around and I think as everyone has, well at least in the North Shore area,” said Swampscott Police Sgt. Jay Locke. “They are a little bit of a traffic nuisance here and there, but we all have to live with them. We do have occasional phone calls but there have been no major headaches about turkeys just yet.”

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