URBANA – Never mess with a wild tom turkey during mating season.
Stacy Lischka of the Illinois Natural History says male turkeys are feeling a bit of urgency about now.
"In spring, love is in the air," she said. "The males are moving around more now, looking specifically for females. The females are less active this time of year; they'll start nesting soon."
That jibes with reports from Bernie Sloan of the Champaign County Audubon Society, who compiles wild turkey sightings in his southeast Urbana neighborhood.
A bird lover, Sloan acknowledges that wildlife and city don't always mesh perfectly.
He says the local turkeys are tough – tough enough to survive a recent blizzard – and determined to procreate.
Among the reports are a man who was attacked four times by a turkey, which cut through his clothes.
Though the turkeys' competition is male-to-male mano a mano, human females have been victims of aggression.
Lenrose Jahiel is 80 and likes to walk briskly in her Urbana neighborhood. On March 11, she became the prey of an overly amorous tom turkey.
"I'm not easily frightened, but it was very annoying and I couldn't get rid of him," she says of her winged stalker.
Jahiel was on Mumford halfway between Race and Vine, not looking for trouble, just trying to get along, when her predator struck.
"I passed a yard with two females and one male," she recalls of the crime scene.
"I was bigger than he was, of course. It was a case of mistaken identity. This thing landed on me and he cut a couple of places in my clothing and pecked me on the arm."
In self-survival mode, Jahiel unleashed deadly kicks in the turkey's direction, without success.
"He attacked me as many as eight times, and I kept kicking at him, but he would dodge two or three inches away," she recalls. "A lady pulled up in her car and asked me if I wanted a ride."
But Jahiel was resolute:
"No, I wanted to continue my walk! Finally, somebody else came up, and I guess the turkey felt outnumbered. It all ended well."
Authorities continue to search for the turkey. Last September, a turkey was captured in Urbana in a six-hour effort. Urbana's animal control officer, Chelsea Angelo, said then that females would not be captured because they posed less danger.
Sloan, who is giving a presentation on Urbana's turkeys this week, said mating season has a nice benefit for bird-watchers in that toms take on a more colorful look to woo their hens. He has a photo that shows bright red, white and blue coloration on the male's head for the season.