Thanksgiving in Urbana: Turkeys captured

Thanksgiving in Urbana: Turkeys captured

URBANA – Chet Utterback was at the poultry club's omelet breakfast Tuesday when his cell phone rang.

The turkeys were back, his wife told him.

Utterback, manager of the University of Illinois poultry research farm, was on it.

Considered a biosecurity risk because they can carry infectious diseases, turkeys could wipe out a whole flock of chickens, he feared.

As protector of the fowl, Utterback was not going to let that happen.

Around 7:30 that morning, a roaming tom turkey and the object of his affection, a female turkey, had ventured from southeast Urbana, near Vine Street and Montclair Road, northwest to campus. They poked around the UI plant clinic, checked out an alfalfa field and by about 9 a.m. they fled from Utterback toward the indoor golf facility off St. Mary's Road.

It was there the tom caught a glimpse of himself in the doors of the new UI building.

The turkey apparently thought his reflection was another male turkey.

"Since I know how to speak turkey, I gobbled at him a few times," Utterback said.

While other members of the turkey-catching crew gathered supplies and prepared a net-shooting gun, Utterback got to work.

Gobbling was something he learned to do when he was 5 years old and he entertained his own son by showing off his turkey calls while visiting zoos.

"I never thought it'd come in handy. I just thought it was something I'd do at the zoo," he said of his talent.

After 15 minutes or so of keeping the turkey near the building, Utterback reached out toward the tom with his bare hands and grabbed the bird by the neck and feet and handed him to other officers.

The female turkey, well, she got a little squirrelly.

"The hen was an ordeal because she could fly good," Utterback said.

Eventually she was captured near the UI track facility.

By around 9 a.m. the last of the wild turkeys of southeast Urbana were rounded up by a crew that included the farm manager with a knack for gobbling, Urbana's animal control officer, Urbana police officers and wildlife biologists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Somewhere outside the city limits, far from inline skaters, 3-year-olds on Big Wheels and white-haired evening strollers, two turkeys have now found a new home.

A place to forage for nuts, leaves and fat grubs. A place to reconnect with a long-lost brother.

The tom, who spent recent weeks preening and prancing behind a female turkey, was taken, along with the female.

Their destination: an undisclosed rural location, according to Urbana police.

Assistant Police Chief Pat Connolly declined to elaborate on the methods used to capture the turkeys or where they have been transported.

"The good news is they are clearly in good health and in good shape," he said.

Wherever the tom and his girl were taken, another turkey is there waiting for him: They were delivered to the same place where the male turkey caught in Urbana in September was taken.

"Finally!" said Mayor Laurel Prussing, who lives in southeast Urbana and has had a run-in with the turkeys before. (The best way to handle those confrontations, she said, was to talk to the turkey, not run from it.) Prussing and the police department have received numerous phone calls and emails about the free-roaming turkeys, usually spotted somewhere between Windsor Road on the south to the Illini Grove on the UI campus.

"At first, a lot of people said, 'Wow! We have turkeys!' Then the complaints started coming in," she said.

Some Urbana residents apparently started feeding the animals and the turkeys' behavior started to become more aggressive. A grown man was seen running down Vine Street with a turkey on his heels. A woman out for a walk along Montclair was pecked by a tom. On Saturday a turkey chased a car down Colorado, then pecked the tires.

"When they started pecking, we became worried about children and the elderly," Prussing said.

Urbana's intrepid animal control officer, Chelsea Angelo, spent untold hours tracking and trying to capture the turkeys, she said.

Prussing and Connolly said the turkeys are gone and no others remain.

As for Utterback, he's looking forward to moving to the new poultry research farm where eventually the flock will be in a more secure facility and safe from stray turkeys and other prying creatures.

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