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Turkeys gone wild in Moorhead causing a stir, prompting daily complaints to city leaders

Wild turkeys forage Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in south Fargo. Turkeys, which freely cross the river in winter, have been troubling some Moorhead residents. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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MOORHEAD — Angela Andersen said one of the reasons she lives in north Moorhead is because of the wild turkeys.

"I do enjoy them," she said, noting her additional fondness for the deer.

She's not alone, but she could possibly be in the minority these days as complaints are mounting and more turkeys that are no longer afraid of humans or vehicles are roaming neighborhoods along the Red River corridor.

One rafter, the term for a group of turkeys, has reportedly grown to about 50 birds, and there are several others along the river and in neighborhoods.

Moorhead City Administrator Chris Volkers said she's been getting at least a complaint a day lately, and none were in support of the turkeys.


A wild turkey reacts to a passing motorist as the other two stop pecking at the ground and look around while feeding in this 2008 photo shot near the intersection of Fourth Street and Center Avenue in Moorhead. Forum file photo

City Councilwoman Sara Watson Curry, who lives in and represents the north Moorhead area where most of the rafters are now living, has started "Turkey Talk" on a Facebook page called "Moorhead = fantastic" where people are weighing in on the issue. She's also taking comments at her website.

She wants to hear "the good, the bad and the ugly."

Some of the ugly, according to the posts, are that the turkeys have been terrorizing mail carriers, attacking people's dogs, pooping all over people's yards and sidewalks, ripping up gardens and scaring children on their way to or while waiting at bus stops.

Moorhead Police spokesman Sgt. Deric Swenson said the big, strong and sometimes aggressive animals have even chased squad cars.

Watson Curry and Volkers plan to bring the issue before the City Council and perhaps call for a community meeting on the issue.

Swenson said the issue isn't really new since the turkeys came onto the Moorhead scene in the early 2000s. After the turkeys disappeared from the state in the early 1900s, they were re-introduced in the 1970s and now are flourishing with more than 30,000 statewide, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.


As the numbers have grown, Swenson said he realizes "we have to be sensitive to both sides of the issue," as evidenced by the comments in Watson Curry's Facebook discussions.

Andersen said instead of getting rid of the turkeys, "we need to get at the root of the problem and that's people feeding them."

Swenson said it's illegal to feed deer in the city, but not turkeys. He said he can recall only one police case involving the feeding of deer, and the Clay County Attorney's office declined to prosecute.

Curry Watson said some residents are perhaps feeding the turkeys with good intentions.

"But they are wild animals," she said.

Two wild turkeys play a game of chicken with an oncoming car on Moorhead's First Avenue North near Third Street as seen April 25, 2013. Forum file photo

Swenson said there are many wild animals that are naturally along the Red River and although it's an urban area, the rural area isn't far away. He said the police haven't had a successful plan yet to deal with nuisance turkeys.


They've tried a few methods of attack. One time they bought a "net gun" to try to trap them, but the birds only got entangled and ripped the net to pieces, causing an expense problem.

Police tried other trapping methods, too, only to find the birds being self-destructive, and it ended up as an inhumane way of treating them.

One resident said in a Facebook post that he was told the Minnesota DNR was possibly looking at trapping some of the turkeys and relocating them to another state.

However, when Watson Curry talked to Mike Oehler, area wildlife manager for the DNR based in Fergus Falls, he told her the agency's responsibility ends at the city limits and the state is not relocating any of the birds within the state at this time or regulating the population.

In an interview with The Forum, Oehler re-emphasized the point that it's up to the city to make a decision if they want to control the population. When he visited Moorhead, he said he saw about 100 turkeys in three flocks.

Oehler said the three options for controlling the birds are to limit feeding and they will move on, baiting and trapping them with a "rocket net" that goes over several of the birds and they are then placed in cages, or a minimal hunting season.

Former City Councilwoman Mari Dailey favored the hunting option, suggesting in a Facebook post that they have a short, limited bow-hunting season for turkeys to control the population because there are few natural predators.

Volkers questions if that's the answer. She would like to see more input on the issue and suggested maybe ornithologists could offer some answers as they study every aspect of birds.

Oehler said if the birds were trapped, "you have to have a place to put them and you have to be careful where you put them."

He said in his three-county area, most of the complaints about the turkeys involve the birds getting into cattle feedlots and eating feed. Oehler said a permit can be granted to the farmer to shoot them — with the turkey donated to a food bank — because there is also a disease concern. Otherwise, Oehler said he doesn't have any other cities with complaints about the birds.

"The turkeys can be a novelty, but they can turn into nuisance real quickly," Oehler said.

For the time being, perhaps one of the only solutions appears to be for people to quit feeding the birds, which would then have to go elsewhere.

However, what about people that enjoy the birds as they trek through their backyards and even along city streets?

"When are humans going to accept that we are not the only animals on earth?" Andersen asks. "Do we really want an environment that doesn't allow animals?"

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