Wild turkey’s legend is growing

Photo Courtesy of WOPD Chief James Abbott
A turkey, pictured here proudly ignoring the tranquilizer dart in his chest, has been making his presence known along Pleasant Valley Way.

It’s one tough turkey.

It’s been hit by a tranquilizer dart to no avail and rumors have it that it’s been hit by a car, chased joggers, attacked bicyclists, stopped traffic and been deemed a hometown hero.

West Orange officials became aware of the turkey several weeks ago when it was spotted trotting around Pleasant Valley Way creating traffic problems.

The turkey’s story began to spread with repeated sightings and began to take on a life of its own. Coincidentally, with Thanksgiving just around the corner probably adding fuel to the conversation, the turkey’s legend began to grow on social media and it even made it to The New York Times.

While the turkey doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, reports and rumors continue to fly on social media. People have reported seeing the dart in its chest, which was an early attempt by officials to catch it so it could be released in a safer environment, and others claimed it was hit by a car.

“Myths have long outgrown the facts,” said Joe Fagan, public information officer of West Orange. “I can’t tell you with any degree of accuracy how long it’s [the turkey] been around. It’s not bothering anyone. I think — and I stress THINK — more myth than facts.”

Michael Fonzino, the township’s director of health and welfare, said people have called the police to say that a turkey was in the road. He said others are feeding the turkey and officials are trying to get them to stop.

“It’s a safety concern with traffic,” he said. “The main concern is to stop feeding it. Usually, these turkeys move on. They’re smart. They know they could get fed. We’re trying to get people to stop feeding, so it moves on. People are throwing food from cars. Food is landing in the roadway. If it’s in the roadway eating bagels and French fries, it’s gonna get run over by a car. Apparently, it was hit by a car last weekend but thankfully it’s OK. It came back. It’s alive and presumably well.”

And, according to Fonzino, the turkey is allegedly attacking bicyclists and people walking by; and pecking hubcaps of cars by Kessler Institute.

“Unofficial people say they knew someone it attacked,” he said. “But no one reported to us.”

Fonzino added that it’s going on the third week that they’ve been dealing with this and that the turkey has “kind of become our mascot.” However, for the sake of all, he shared, “It’s better if it’s relocated.”

West Orange Township Mayor Susan McCartney released a public service announcement to reiterate that the turkey shouldn’t be fed.

“The Township’s Animal Control Division is going to speak with management at Kessler and Daughters of Israel on Pleasant Valley Way, to ask everyone to stop feeding this turkey,” she stated.

Continuing, the statement added:

“The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture are working diligently to capture and relocate the wild turkey that has been present on Pleasant Valley Way, in the area of Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and Daughters of Israel.

It has come to our attention that some motorists have been feeding this turkey by throwing food out of their vehicles. While we appreciate your support and care for our local wildlife, it is crucial that you understand feeding this turkey can unintentionally interfere with the USDA’s objectives and hamper their capture efforts. Officials from the USDA kindly request that the public refrain from feeding this turkey.”

Public Affairs Specialist for Wildlife Services, Tanya Espinosa said they are actively working to remove the turkey by netting the bird and relocating it to state property.

Gia Garcia, owner of Willow and Olivia Dessert Café in West Orange, created the artwork for a Hometown Hero T-shirt and hoodie in honor of the turkey. She’s getting ready to have a Hometown Hero Day on Nov. 18 at her café with plans for donations to protect wildlife.
Garcia said she doesn’t want to see the turkey relocated.

“We’re invested in this poor turkey,” she said. “I’m a very pro-animal person. It’s their home. Let them be. We are united over this turkey. He’s a hometown hero.”