The wild turkeys roaming The Crescent neighborhood in Bluffton just weren’t wild enough, according to S.C. Department of Natural Resources officials.
That lack of “wildness” cost 18 of them their lives.
After observing their aggressive behavior and abnormal coloration — both of which suggested they weren’t true Eastern wild turkeys — the department determined the birds were unfit for relocation and euthanized them, DNR biologist Jay Cantrell said Wednesday.
The meat from the birds is being harvested and given away, Cantrell said.
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“I don’t care if it's an alligator, deer or turkey, we don’t want to move one nuisance problem somewhere else because those people would be calling us in a couple months with the same problems,” he said. “So there’s nowhere we could release them that it wouldn’t be an issue or concern.”
After receiving complaints from residents of The Crescent about the birds — believed to number as many as 100 — the DNR originally planned to relocate them to Daufuskie Island.
Observations, however, showed the turkeys were too unafraid of people, and sometimes even aggressive toward them, to be moved to a populated area. That behavior includes chasing cars down streets, sitting on outdoor furniture and pecking at the windows of homes.
Moving them to an unpopulated area wasn’t an option either, Cantrell said.
Some feather discoloration and abnormal beards and spurs led DNR to believe the turkeys might have bred with pen-raised turkeys at some point. If The Crescent turkeys bred with “true” native wild turkeys, they could weaken the genetic line, according to Cantrell.
“It would be irresponsible to release those turkeys because of our responsibility to protect true Eastern wild turkeys,” he said.
The agency did not test the birds from The Crescent — a costly, time-consuming process, he said — because it felt confident the birds were not fully wild.
Cantrell suspects DNR will remove about 40 to 50 birds from the community in all, though that number could change. The goal is not to remove all of them, he said, but to make the population manageable.
Several residents are upset birds are being removed and destroyed, saying they are part of the natural wildlife.
Cantrell said the department is sensitive to those concerns.
“We are not trying to devalue the turkey. We are in the business of managing and promoting and encouraging wildlife, so it’s not in our nature to go out and do this,” he said. “This wasn’t a decision made lightly, but there was a problem and we had to be responsible.”