FAIR HAVEN — Awhile back, some new neighbors moved in to the area near the Church of the Nativity at Ridge and Hance Road.
They were unexpected and maybe unwanted by some.
But to others in the neighborhood they were a welcomed addition. And now that they’re gone, not by their own choosing, some miss them — and at lease one area resident worries about them.
The unexpected residents who left in January were wild turkeys.
Last spring a rafter of seven turkeys appeared in the area. “Next thing we knew we had these large creatures on the property. I don’t know their origins, where they came from,” explained the Rev. Robert J.W. Schecker, pastor of Church of the Nativity Roman Catholic church. “We use to kid about it that they were Judeo-Christian-based,” because they would be across the street at Congregation B’Nai Israel, a Jewish synagogue, and travel across the street to the church’s property.
“I thought they were quite interesting, so beautiful,” offered Gentry Drive resident Kathleen M. Hendrick, who described herself as a wildlife lover.
One of the larger birds was killed in traffic, and another disappeared somewhere, but the remaining five stayed and appeared to become reliant on the generosity of Schecker and Hendrick. “I don’t know if they knew me or if they knew the voice, or they knew something, but they would see me and I would get the biggest kick out of this,” Schecker said, “they would come running over to the kitchen door and I would feed them.”
“They would come and eat and wander off,” Hendrick said of the birds.
But there in lies the problem, unfortunately.
“It’s never in the best interest for people to feed them,” advised Kim Tinnes, wildlife service technician for the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife.
By feeding the wild animals “you create an artificial situation,” which can create “a nuisance,” encouraging the animals to remain in an area that may not be the best choice for them, Tinnes said.
What happens, quite often, Tinnes explained, is that “You’ll get half the residents who think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread”—the turkeys that is—“and you get the other half that are the ones (complaining that) they’re roosting on the cars, or on the houses, they’re chasing their kids at the bus stops. Those people usually want them gone.”
In this case, Tinnes said, she had received calls from local residents complaining about the turkeys. “They were a disruption to some of the neighbors,” she said, but adding “That’s pretty much the norm.”
Hendrick said she reached out to Tinnes, concerned about the birds’ future, since they were accustomed to being around humans and that could put them at risk if they were relocated to a hunting area.
“I got to know them,” Hendrick said. “I guess all of us who got to know them sort of domesticated them through no fault of their own.”
It’s not unusual for birds to become habituated when fed by people, Tinnes said. But the division’s protocol is to gather them up and relocate them to a wildlife management area, where they will hopefully adapt, she said.
Hendrick said she had hoped the birds might be moved to a safer environment. She even contacted the Popcorn Park Zoo, an animal rescue and sanctuary area in Forked River.
This week, John Bergman, the zoo’s general manager, said he did speak to Hendrick and Tinnes about taking the birds.
“I offered to Fish and Wildlife (that) if they needed us, by all means we would help them out,” he said.
But Tinnes said she rejected the offer, “because they would have spent the rest of their life in a cage. Frankly, that’s no life for any wild animal.”
“You really want them to have the opportunity to be wild birds,” Tinnes added.
The birds were taken to Assunpink Wildlife Management Area, an approximately 5,000-acre area in Upper Freehold Township, Tinnes said.
The area is one that does allow hunters, Hendrick said and Tinnes confirmed.
But, “That doesn’t mean they’ll have access to these birds,” Tinnes countered. “I let them go on Jan. 4 and those birds may not be there anymore. There’s no fence. They go where they want to go.”
Before they were rounded up, one of the turkeys appeared to have hurt his leg, which was an additional concern for Hendrick.
“I really miss them,” Schecker admitted, adding that the five turkeys were named by some parishioners, who began calling the large one Mary and the four smaller ones Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Photos of the turkeys made their way on to the church’s website. “I just got a kick out of them,” Schecker said. “They were very friendly.”
“It was sad to see them go. But in my heart of hearts, I knew they should,” Hendrik said wistfully. “I just wish we could have gotten them to a safe place.”