Minneapolis – They’re hanging out next to bike racks and dorms outside. They strut across Harvard Yard. And yes, they sometimes fan their feathers and make accusations at innocent students.
Across the country, from the banks of the University of Minnesota River to the forests of the University of California, Santa Cruz, wild turkeys attend college. And they seem to love it. Maybe a lot.
Once a rarity in much of the United States, turkeys have become one of the greatest conservation success stories of the past half century. But as efforts to expand the bird’s range throughout the countryside flourished, turkeys also made their way into cities, setting up carcasses in alleys, parks, backyards, and increasingly in institutions of higher learning.
“College campuses are just the perfect habitat,” said David Drake, a professor and wildlife specialist at the University of Wisconsin, where a large herd loves to hang out near apartments for graduate students. “You have this mixing of woodland patches with open grassy areas and things like that. Nobody fishes.”
It’s a good life for a big bird. In Minnesota, turkeys were feasting on small berries near the student union this month and roamed the sidewalk, unperturbed as the college students passed by. Tom Ritzer, assistant director of land care for the university, said a flock of turkeys, also known as trusses, sometimes tore and damaged planting beds. But other times, excessive foraging for turkey feed alerts groundkeepers to an infestation of larvae.
“It’s kind of a blessing and a curse,” said Mr. Ritzer, a 22-year-old veteran of the university who said large numbers of turkeys have started appearing in the past several years. “I think it might be better than wolves,” he added.
In many colleges, turkeys have become little celebs. Instagram accounts celebrating the birds have loyal followings in Wisconsin, where they have been photographed in stadiums and in parking lots, and in Minnesota, where one bird was captured looking wistfully through the window of a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant off-campus.
“It’s almost like our campus pet,” said Amanda Eshel, who with co-owner Paige Robinson runs the Instagramturkeysofumn page. Most of the photos they post are submitted by fellow students, but only the best make the cut.
“We have dozens of direct messages from photos and videos we haven’t released yet,” said Ms. Robinson, a sophomore who said she only saw turkeys in zoos when she grew up on Long Island. Everywhere in Minneapolis.
Living with group poultry is not always easy. At California Polytechnic State University, the campus police department is sometimes called out for turkeys chasing people. At the University of Michigan, a state wildlife officer killed a known turkey two years ago that was said to harass cyclists and joggers. And in Wisconsin, Dr. Drake said at least two aggressive toms were culled after repeatedly frightening students.
Even for a turkey lover, the chase can be intimidating.
“There is an element of humor, because, oh, turkey,” said Audrey Evans, a doctoral student in Wisconsin who runs turkeys_of_uw_madison on Instagram. “But the fight-or-flight instinct begins.”
Whether turkeys prefer campus life over other urban areas is a matter of some debate.
Turkeys regularly block traffic in the streets around campus and have been known to peck on car hoods, said Richard Pollack, a bird watcher at Harvard University. He once said, a turkey made its way into an academic building through an open door before pulling out without incident.
But turkeys appear to be ubiquitous in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard University, and Dr. Pollack said the birds may be ubiquitous off-campus.
“I don’t know if turkeys are necessarily more abundant or if they attend college more than they do in other areas,” said Dr. Pollack, the university’s chief environmental public health officer. But because of the wide open areas and heavy foot traffic, he said, “people are more likely to see them” on campus.
They definitely see them. In Sacramento, an opinion writer for the student newspaper wrote a column urging acceptance of birds. at Fairfield University in Connecticut, where a Twitter account is inactive Once the rafters on campus date, the birds are a point of pride. And at Lane Community College in Oregon, there is an official campus policy on turkeys, which is that “there will be no intentional or unintentional feeding” of them.
There is little formal study of college turkeys, but on campus after campus there is widespread agreement that their numbers have exploded in the past decade or so.
Alex Jones, who manages the California Campus Nature Preserve, Santa Cruz, said he had never seen a turkey when he was a student there in the 1990s. They are now everywhere, sometimes in groups of dozens: outside dining halls, on the boughs of redwoods, and more often in the traffic-blocking streets.
“The funny thing to me is that sometimes they’ll take the crosswalk,” said Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones said it makes sense for turkeys to feel right at home. The Santa Cruz campus includes large wooded tracts and pastures and is bordered by state forests. Perhaps the absence of hunters also helps.
At Harvard, Dr. Pollack said he, too, understood why the birds kept coming back, even though building managers have complained about the huge amount of droppings they leave behind.
“If I were a turkey, I would probably find the yards and the huge Harvard Square itself a really nice place,” Dr. Pollack said. “Lots of food. Lots of things to see.”