NEW YORK (AP) — Say "wild" and "New York City," and few might fill in these blanks: a flock of feral turkeys causing a flap in a city that defines urbanism.
Yet a population of roving turkeys on Staten Island has become a mess-making, traffic-stopping scourge to some residents, an impromptu natural attraction to others and a fraught project for government officials.
Since dozens of the turkeys were rounded up and killed this summer, the birds' future has become a topic as heated as a Thanksgiving meat thermometer.
"We don't want to kill them. We just want them to leave us alone," says Barbara Laing, who watched as at least 50 turkeys converged outside her house around sundown one recent evening with a chorus of honks — their own and those of drivers futilely trying to shoo them out of traffic.
The turkeys milled on the grass, flew up like cartoon ghosts into a large maple tree, and settled in for the night.
It's a sight that charms onlookers and sometimes residents, when the turkeys aren't fouling yards with droppings, devouring gardens, waking up residents with raucous pre-dawn mating sessions, and utterly disregarding dogs and other supposed deterrents.
"They really are a beautiful bird ... but they ruined our property," says Laing's sister and next-door neighbor, Mary Jane Froese.
After decades of effort to halt the decline of the symbolically American birds, experts say the nation's wild turkey population has rebounded from about 300,000 in the early 1950s to an estimated 7 million now.
The forest-dwelling gobbler has adapted to settings as populated as lower Manhattan, where a turkey nicknamed Zelda hangs out. They've been accused of attacking residents in Brookline, Mass., and menacing schoolchildren in Glendale, Wis.
Turkey tensions have come to a big-city head on Staten Island, where the birds started congregating at a state psychiatric hospital and attracting notice a decade or so ago.
Now, nearly everyone on the island seems to have a turkey story, not to mention an opinion.
Turkey gripes have led to at least one arrest — of a resident who set off fireworks to try to disperse them from his block in 2007 — and schemes such as coating turkey eggs with vegetable oil in hopes of preventing embryos from developing. (It didn't work.)
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