Wild turkeys turn up around NYC

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2003

NEW YORK Alex Calota saw it strutting near his hot dog cart about five months ago. It was a wild turkey in Manhattan.

Calota is among the increasing number of New Yorkers reporting strange encounters with the wild birds best known this time of year as a main course.

''I give him corn, I give him bread, sometime cookies,'' Calota said of his feathered friend he came across at the Upper West Side's Riverside Park. Calota dubbed the bird ''Giuliani,'' after former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Upper West Side residents have said that Giuliani has a partner, while a bird named Zelda was spotted hopping around Battery Park. And then there's the South Beach Psychiatric Center in Staten Island, where more than 60 birds are known to congregate.

''They come out into the parking lots. They're absolutely fearless,'' said city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

The department recently asked the state Depart-ment of Environmental Conservation for a permit that would let it move the turkeys from outside the psychiatric hospital to parkland, most likely in Staten Island.

No one really knows why so many turkeys decided to make a psychiatric hospital their home. Benepe said they've been there for years. The hospital didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

Parks officials have tried to introduce endangered species recently into the big city, giving a home to four bald eagles in northern Manhattan and trying to acclimate owls in Central Park.

But Benepe says the city isn't necessarily trying to bring more turkeys into the parks it just has no choice. The wild turkey population in New York state has grown from near-extinction about 2,000 in the 1950s to 65,000 in the 1990s, he said.

''There's relatively good habitat and relatively few predators,'' the commissioner said. ''The only predator who's going to get a turkey is a very fast dog, which is unlikely, or a human with a gun and hunting isn't allowed.''

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