Mayor calls in feds to round up turkeys

URBANA – The city is making a federal case out of its rampaging wild turkeys.

It's the mayor who took out the contract.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said Tuesday that after city and county officers couldn't nab the turkeys that some have claimed terrorize the southern edge of the city, it will be an Agriculture Department biologist who brings the birds to ground.

Actually, they'll be taken to a safe place, probably in Douglas County, where they'll be able to live out their lives in poultry peace, she said.

"We want humane treatment for these animals," Prussing said. "That's why I put out the contract" with the USDA.

For every bird lover who cherishes the return of a majestic wild beast to our area – Ben Franklin wanted the turkey designated the national bird – there's somebody else who has a tale of fowl behavior.

Three, sometimes four of the birds have nipped at the heels of Urbanaites who offended their sense of territoriality. There are no reports of major injuries, the mayor said.

On the other hand, local bird fans like Bernie Sloan say the birds have been more sinned against than they have sinned.

He reports that bird-watchers have caught preteen boys harassing the animals, for instance.

The problem is Prussing's to resolve after a succession of efforts to corral the turkeys failed.

"The mayor's in charge of everything. I have absolute control," she joked.

Urbana Animal Control Officer Chelsea Angelo said the birds were a daunting challenge for her and other animal law enforcement officers.

"As prey animals, they have incredibly fast reflexes," she said. "Unless their tails are fanned out, they have 360-degree vision, so sneaking up on them is out of the question."

Unlike Angelo, they can fly.

Also, they can run about 15 miles an hour in short bursts.

Missing from Urbana's arsenal of anti-turkey weaponry is the $4,500 net gun that would have eased the problem, Angelo said.

But the USDA will have a big advantage in the war on poultry, she notes: a sedative especially made for turkeys.

It takes six weeks to get FDA approval to employ the drug, but the USDA biologist has the permission, and could begin his job any day, she said.

Prussing saluted the heroic work of the officers who dared to take on the turkeys.

Though she has spoken with pro-turkey and anti-turkey factions, and feels their pain, she is not of the opinion that turkeys were much of a threat to an adult human.

"I've had turkeys gobble up behind me and I just turned around and talked to them," Prussing said.

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