Angela Santilli was minding her own business, training for a marathon in early September by taking a run along the Niagara River Parkway by Fort George.
As she ran, a tour bus slowed and its passengers stared at her. Annoyed by their rudeness and assuming they were just amazed that anyone would be running in the extreme heat, she ignored them — until they started pulling out their phones and filming her, or more precisely, behind her.
She looked back and was shocked to see a giant wild turkey on her heels.
She ran around trees and bushes trying to evade the bird, but it wouldn’t give up chase. She ran into traffic — which had thankfully stopped to watch the drama — dodging around and between cars, and the bird kept on.
Finally a man in a pickup truck yelled out his window, “jump in!” She pulled on the door only to find it locked, and had to run around the truck two more times before she could grab the handle and leap to safety.
“I was terrified,” she says, describing the incident.
“I was totally defenceless — if that man hadn’t stopped I don’t know what might have happened.”
You might be laughing right about now. Turkeys are inherently comedic. But this aggressive Tom is no joke.
Another local resident, who is withholding his name for fear of being mocked about his run-in with a turkey (perhaps the same one) had to see his doctor and get a tetanus shot when the bird flew up to his face and scratched him using its talons.
“If it didn’t happen to me, I wouldn’t believe it,” he says. He was also out for a run, in May, on the path between the river and the Carolinian forest near the fort.
“I saw the turkey from afar, and kept my distance, leaving it totally alone. And then it came at me, picked up speed, made it beside me. I turned to scare it by waving my arms and roaring loudly, and it attacked me using its talons on my face. I’m lucky I was wearing sunglasses, because that thing was going for my eyes.”
Several other locals — and tourists — have experienced or witnessed attacks.
Sarah Regier was out for an evening walk recently, on the bike path by the river near the fort.
“As I pass by, someone says, ‘Don’t get chased by the turkey!’ Then I see the bird, it’s a really big turkey, getting closer. It comes right at me, I can tell it’s angry, its head is moving back and forth.”
Regier continues, “A man passing by on his bicycle said. ‘Oh my god, you’re going to have to be saved from that bird.’ He stopped and slammed his bicycle on the ground several times and scared the bird away.”
“A woman watching the whole thing said the day before her husband was attacked and he was saved by the honking of many cars passing by — she said, ‘I didn’t believe him until I saw you get chased,’” says Regier.
Santilli still has nightmares about the experience, and won’t go anywhere near Fort George or let her children go there either. Many other locals have chosen to avoid the area completely. But cars and tourists and the uninitiated are still encountering the brazen beast daily. It stops traffic by staring down vehicles and refusing to move.
Ken Reid, Niagara-on-the-Lake Canine Control, has had many calls regarding the bird’s attacks since the spring. He refers people to the Niagara Falls Humane Society, which is generally responsible for wildlife.
“I went to check him out. I found him on the corner of John Street and the parkway. I parked the car at the side of the road and watched him for a while, then approached him carefully. His head is higher than my waist — he’s a big bird. Next thing you know he was looking at me, and so I got right back in to my car and drove away,” says Reid. He wonders if the bird is protecting a mate, and warns they do use their talons and aim for the face.
Anecdotal reports tell of sweaters being torn, blood being drawn. Yes, by a turkey, and yes, somewhat comedic. But not.
It is perhaps this humorous aspect that has various levels of government handing off responsibility. Town offices refer reports to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, as does the Niagara Falls Humane Society.
Joad Durst, resource management supervisor at the ministry, offers some insight. “Turkeys can become aggressive in the fall as young male birds start competing with elders in the flock,” he said.
Unfortunately this doesn’t explain the attacks that have happened consistently since May. The bird may have been defending a nest in the spring, but this is still clearly aggressive behaviour.
Durst suggests people ignore the turkeys and walk past them — a message our particular bird is ignoring. He continues, “Turkeys can also respond aggressively to shiny objects like car windows, mirrors and polished car doors. We recommend covering the reflection if possible.”
Not very feasible along the busy parkway.
Some other advice from the MNRF includes shaking a stick at the wild turkey if it approaches you, or keeping a leashed dog close at hand.
Durst suggests calling Parks Canada, whose property the turkey has decided to patrol. Their official response to the situation is as follows: “The turkey has been seen in the general area but Parks Canada has not received any comments or direct complaints at this time. We understand other jurisdictions are looking into this issue and we are in communication with them.”
The Niagara Regional Police have received many calls about the bird as well, and have attended the scene more than once, only to find the bird gone, or roosting in the forest where they can’t safely reach it.
The NRP was unavailable for an official response at press time, but communication has been established and they are taking the matter as a serious safety hazard for the citizens of Niagara.
We will follow up on this for our next issue.
In the meantime, police do request that people call them only when there is an incidence of a person in immediate danger.
In such a case, they would treat the event in the same way as they would any animal attack.