Volume 76, Number 1 | June 6 - 12, 2007

Villager photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio

As of Tuesday, the wild turkey was strutting its stuff in Washington Market Park in Tribeca, above

A shot of wild turkey in the Village; Was it Zelda?

By Lucas Mann

Something strange was afoot at the corner of West Houston St. and LaGuardia Pl. last Friday afternoon. There was something walking the streets even lighter than the models that usually patrol the area. Far stranger looking than any neighborhood hipster, this tourist to Greenwich Village cut a striking figure as it ambled along Houston St. It was, in fact, a wild turkey.

It’s a challenge for most newcomers to adapt to Manhattan’s hustle and bustle, let alone one of a different species with a brain the size of a peach pit, but apparently this bird was no chicken.

Friday’s turkey sighting at Houston and LaGuardia was reported by Curbed.com. The next day, a local resident spied the turkey — presumably the same one — farther west at Christopher and Washington Sts.

“He was really evasive, like a football player,” said Glenn Berman, who videotaped the bird in action. “He was darting in between cabs. One time I thought I’d trick him and come around the back side of a parked car, but he doubled back and outmaneuvered me.”

In Friday’s turkey trot, the wild bird ran down Houston St. and ended up exploring the wild Time Landscape indigenous garden. The garden was originally planned in 1965 by artist Alan Sonfist, and was completed in 1978. It was planted to slowly become a plot that exemplified the pre-Colonial Manhattan landscape of the Native Americans. Perhaps this new neighbor was merely returning to check out his ancestors’ digs.

Councilmember Alan Gerson not only represents the district but also lives at 505 LaGuardia Pl., right next to the Time Landscape.

“The turkey is to be commended for bringing authenticity to Time Landscape,” Gerson said. “However, I understand that the turkey subsequently jaywalked across Houston, and that I cannot condone.”

Yet, others would say the turkey cannot be faulted for its survival skills. Berman said he asked the police about the bird and they said it had been sighted before. But was it, in fact, the same turkey each time? Curbed.com reported on Oct. 10, 2006, about the “Battery Park Turkey,” which calmly ruled over Manhattan’s southern tip. Could the Village turkey, in fact, be that same bird?

Sara Hobel, director of the city’s Urban Park Rangers, thought that it probably was the Battery Park turkey.

“Oh, she’s famous,” Hobel said of the Battery Park turkey. “Her name is Zelda. She’s been down there for years and she has been known to wander. She’s been spotted as far up as the Village.” Zelda, apparently, lives about as good a life as a turkey can lead. She is adored and quite well fed by all those who pass her tree in the park. She is also “wacky,” as Hobel put it, and while she is too content to leave Manhattan, she does explore.

“It is uncommon to see wild turkeys in New York City, but it’s not unheard of,” said Hobel. “There’s a flock of turkeys that live on Staten Island, a few on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx and a couple in Morningside Park that had babies last year.”

Another reason to suspect that the bird at Houston and LaGuardia was, in fact, Zelda, was that it was spotted alone. Turkeys always migrate in flocks. But Zelda, given her odd living arrangement and questionable mental state, does not migrate or socialize with any feathered friends.

Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, said he had heard about the incident on Friday afternoon. That evening, he found a poster on a lamppost on Prince St., between Broadway and West Houston St. He promptly ripped it down, since that’s what he does with posters. So perhaps the sighting wasn’t of Zelda, but of some person’s favorite pet. But this was the only poster of its kind that Sweeney encountered and he was not sure of its validity.

“Usually, it says ‘Lost Dog Please Call,’ or something,” Sweeney noted. “But there was no number on this one and the guy didn’t seem too upset. Where are you going to keep a turkey in New York, seriously?” Sweeney asked. “In the garden?”

Hobel claims that wild turkeys are actually “quite smart and instinctive, with good survival skills. They’re nothing like domestic turkeys.” Judging by the brilliant open-field running described by Berman, the Greenwich Village turkey likely never spent a day under human care.

The mystery of whether the turkey was Zelda may never be solved. Berman’s video of it is posted on Youtube.com under “The Far West Village NYC Lochness Turkey.” The clip includes close-ups of the turkey tightroping across a narrow iron gate.

The last shot of Berman’s video shows the turkey perched on a high tree branch, taking flight like a large, awkward pigeon.

It seems that the bird headed Downtown from there. On Tues., June 5, the turkey — assumed to be Zelda by Tribeca residents — found its way to Washington Market Park and spent the day there, as crowds gathered around to gawk at the gobbler.

Liz Borrie, a Battery Park resident who has built up enough of a relationship with the bird to converse with it on a first-name basis, came upon her feathered friend in the Tribeca park and called the First Police Precinct.

“Well, this isn’t the first time the police were called,” Borrie said. “A couple of years ago, it got into the schoolyard at P.S. 234 and the Police and Fire Departments came to take it home.”

This year, however, law enforcement seems to have a more nonchalant take on wild turkeys. The police declined to pick up the bird and instead referred the matter to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

An employee who answered the phone at the city’s Center for Animal Care and Control said they would just leave the bird “in the wild,” if one can call Tribeca “the wild.”

For now, it seems that the apparent Zelda can hang out in whatever park she likes.

As Borrie spoke over her cell phone, a debate broke out at Washington Market Park and children could be overheard arguing that if the turkey was happy there, she should be allowed to stay. Borrie, however, was not satisfied with the police’s decision.

“The problem is she’s old and she can’t fly very well. I don’t know if she can get home,” Borrie said. “She probably doesn’t know how she got here [Washington Market Park] in the first place.”

But what if Zelda knew exactly what she was doing in flying the coop? Spring is here and Zelda was once again alone in Battery Park. Perhaps she was out looking for love?

Maybe she will settle in Washington Market Park. Maybe she will return home. No one seems to know exactly what this wild urban turkey will do next.


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