Wild Turkeys in New Jersey are Boldly Knocking on Doors for Food

© Mark Makela for The New York Times

There was a time when Don Kliem enjoyed feeding sunflower seeds and millet to the wild turkeys that wandered near his ranch-style house in Toms River, N.J., a coastal town about 75 miles south of New York.

“But then they got very bold,” said Mr. Kliem, 81. “They would knock on the door — peck on it to get our attention.”

There would be no more snacks.

The turkeys amble in large groups across roads, stubbornly unaffected by a chorus of car horns. They perch on rooftops, make themselves at home in backyards and peck at their feathered reflections in shiny car bumpers. Some people have declared them a menace.

In recent days, the bold turkeys of Toms River are having a pre-Thanksgiving celebrity moment. While the threat they present is a source of spirited debate in this township of more than 95,000 residents, there is little doubt among neighbors that their numbers seem to have jumped this fall.

The wild turkeys have become so entrenched that they have even drawn the ire of a professional baseball player, Todd Frazier, who helped his hometown Toms River team win the 1998 Little League World Series.

“They have come close to harming my family and friends, ruined my cars, trashed my yard and much more,” Mr. Frazier, a former third baseman for the Yankees and Mets, wrote on Twitter. He emphasized his point with a photo of 10 turkeys standing on and near a black sport utility vehicle.

A spokeswoman for Toms River said Mr. Frazier sent the same photo to township officials in March, when he first complained that the birds had overrun his neighborhood in the North Dover section of town. Mr. Frazier, who is now a free agent, could not be reached for comment.

The infiltration of wild turkeys into suburban neighborhoods is not unusual. In the fall, the birds are drawn to open, grassy fields near wooded areas that provide a ready supply of water, insects and acorns. Most nuisance turkey issues can be traced directly to residents providing food handouts to the animals or having well-stocked bird feeders, said Mitchell Blake, a biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation.

“They multiply so much,” Frank Konopka, a nine-year resident of Holiday City, a residential community for people over 55, said as more than two dozen turkeys, most of them covered in dark brown feathers and standing more than two feet tall, meandered through his backyard.

“They peck your cars,’’ he said. “They go to your window and they bother your animals.”

But the birds are quick to scatter whenever his dog approaches, and he said he had never seen them act aggressively toward people.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Tracey Tully