Why did the turkeys cross the road?
To escape from the animal control officers.
By now, almost everyone in town has seen what some are calling “The Three Amigos,” a trio of wild turkeys who seem to have taken up residence around Town Hall within the last several months.
They’ve been accused by the town’s administration of being jaywalkers, loiterers, trespassers, disturbers of the peace and hazards to traffic. It’s hard to miss all of the social media posts of the birds pictured throughout the center of town, perched on telephone wires, in parking lots, blocking traffic, chasing cars and generally strutting their stuff for all to see.
Last week, several media outlets reported that Mayor Joseph Polisena sought to have the turkeys removed from the area by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and since that time the foul story has really taken off.
On Tuesday, a planned sting operation between three communities was executed in an attempt to capture and relocate the turkeys. Just after 7 a.m., Johnston Animal Control Officers Richard Sousa and Richard Starnino, joined by Smithfield Animal Control Officer Tom Taylor and North Providence Officer Ernest Calandra began staking out the birds.
The trio was eventually cornered in front of the strip mall adjacent to Town Hall, and the officers pounced into action. In the melee that followed, filled with gobbles and feathers, two of the birds were captured. One, however, flew across Hartford Avenue and remains on the lam.
“This was a preplanned event. I did get a permit from DEM. I did not pay for it; I was not going to pay for it. I had to call Terry Grey, the assistant director of DEM, who was magnificent. He immediately intervened and expedited the permit,” said Mayor Joseph Polisena of the roundup.
According to the mayor, the birds had become a public safety concern, one he wanted to rectify before one of the turkeys or a member of the public was hurt.
“I’m concerned for them. They were out in the middle of the road this morning and a tractor trailer had to stop and blew his air horn, and they just kind of stood there,” he said. “I was very concerned about a car accident, people getting rear ended, or people getting out of their vehicles to shuffle them along, and then all of a sudden the person could get hit by a car.”
Polisena said he was also concerned about the potential impact the birds may have on the police and fire departments.
“Another concern is the fire trucks. I hear the fire trucks and rescue go by all the time. If they’re in the middle of the road I don’t need the fire trucks to be backed up or slowing down or, God forbid, driving off and hitting something,” he said.
While reports last week indicated that one of the turkeys may have been struck by a car before running off into the woods, all three birds appeared to be healthy prior to the attempted capture.
“I think we had better success using our two animal control officers, using our resources from Smithfield and North Providence; they all came together,” said Polisena. “By using all of the animal control officers, we were two-thirds successful. We’ll get the other one.”
Once the two birds were in custody, they were transported a few miles up Hartford Avenue to their new home.
“I think it was good, it was humane. They were relocated in a humane fashion,” said the mayor. “They have 1,100 acres at Snake Den Park to roam around, there are corn fields up there, so they’ll probably get 50 pounds heavier just in time for Thanksgiving.”
Polisena applauded the work of the officers from the three communities, saying they did an “exemplary job.” The officers pursued the third bird for more than an hour as it crisscrossed and flew up Atwood Avenue to Police Headquarters. They eventually stopped the chase for fear that they may stress the turkey.
As if taunting authorities, the turkey was later seen perched on the telephone wires right outside Town Hall later in the day.
“I feel two-thirds better today than I did yesterday. My animal control officers, they’re like the Mounties, they will get the turkey,” said Polisena. “We will pursue the other lone culprit and hopefully get him and we’ll be rid of the problem.”
There’s been no official word if a warrant has been drawn for the turkey, which as of this writing remains free as a bird.
“It was a success, I’m very glad it worked out. It worked out for the people who commute every day, the people who don’t have to stop now in the middle of the road, and it worked out for the turkeys,” said the mayor. “There were some feathers flying around, but I lose hair every day in the shower. But the birds were not hurt. Hopefully, they will enjoy their life in their newfound location at Snake Den.”
Should the turkeys make their way back to the center of town, another attempt will be made to capture them. They would then be moved to South County.
According to Polisena, all DEM regulations were followed during the capture. What remains unclear is if the turkeys resided in the area due to displacement from nearby construction, a healthier environment in town, or from people feeding them. While some nearby neighbors, who came out to watch the event, sheepishly admitted to feeding the trio and providing them with water, Polisena asks residents to leave the birds alone.
“I encourage people, please, do not feed them. It’s not fair to the birds,” he said. “It’s amazing how smart they are. People say turkeys are stupid, but they’re not that stupid. Overall, they just became a nuisance.”