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Hunger pangs force turkeys close to people

FRONTENAC — Paul Otto found a new friend this winter, a big tom turkey that will eat from his hand.

It's not usual behavior for a wild turkey, but this has not been a typical winter.

The snow came early and crusted over, so birds like turkeys and pheasants are having a hard time finding food. Deer also have been showing unusual behavior, coming much closer to people than typical because they too are hungry.

It's not that deer or turkeys are dying, but they are being stressed, according to Mike Tenney, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife manager.

Otto agreed.


"I think it's a tough winter, a lot more snow," he said.

The turkeys are more interested in the corn Otto offers outside his home between Old and New Frontenac. "In the morning, it's a circus," he said.

One tom turkey is bold enough that he will eat from Otto's hand. He's so aggressive that Otto has to use corn still on the cob; the bird would peck his hand hard if he used shelled corn.

"When they nail a cob, the kernels fly," he said.

Other toms will come nearly as close. When they gobble within a few feet of him, it's startling, he said. "You don't realize how loud they are," he said.

In the past, when winters weren't as tough, birds wouldn't come nearly as close to him, Otto said.

When the weather warms enough and more snow melts, the turkeys likely will resume their normal wariness of him.

Until then, he's having a ball feeding those birds.

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