Kenilworth, Community

Turkey the talk of the town after sightings in Wilmette and Kenilworth

Turkey is a standard item during a trip to the grocery store. But not like this.

Alison Rodes, a marketing professional with the Wilmette Park District, was about to get into her car Tuesday, March 26, following a visit to Jewel in Plaza del Lago when she was startled. A large wild turkey was strolling through the shopping center’s parking lot near Rodes’ car.

Rodes was surprised by the size of the feathered friend. She called the encounter “fascinating” and was not the only one to catch a glimpse of the bird this week in the area.


A wild turkey (left to right) in Jim Lawson’s yard in Kenilworth, in Carol Korak’s yard in Wilmette and off Sheridan Road in Wilmette.

Multiple social media posts gained traction this week by sharing firsthand sightings of the turkey in Wilmette. A post on Nextdoor featured a video of the bird taking a walk through a woman’s yard, while one on Facebook captured the turkey on a residential walkway. Each post collected more than 100 reactions.

But the turkey appears to be a traveler. Jim Lawson caught a photo of him in his Kenilworth yard on Saturday, March 23.

The turkey photographed in Wilmette and Kenilworth is likely an adult male, or a tom, given away by the bird’s red wattle and “beard” protruding from the breast. Males can stand 3 1/2 feet tall and weigh up to 24 pounds.

Luke Garver is the Wild Turkey Project manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He said wild turkey populations are expanding in northern Illinois, including in suburban and urban areas. Suburban life is quaint, even for a turkey, Garver said.

“When they get into suburban areas, they are not faced with a lot of predators or adversity and they are often well fed, which is one thing that has them hanging around,” he said. ” … Parks and golf courses often have big mature trees for them to roost and big open areas (for males) to strut and display.”

Garver said two falls ago a report of a female turkey, or hen, near the lakeshore made some headlines. He said while the sightings are getting more regular, he “wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re common.”

Turkeys in Illinois and the North Shore

Often living in wooded areas and swamps, the eastern wild turkey is a year-round resident in Illinois, according to the IDNR website. But it wasn’t always that way.

Overhunting eliminated wild turkeys from Illinois around 1900, but a trap-and-relocation program reintroduced the wild birds to the state in the 1960s, and they are now present in every county in the state.

Farm- or pen-raised turkeys are also present throughout Illinois, but Garver said the birds do not typically survive long out of captivity. In fact, the IDNR’s repopulation efforts in the ’50s began with pen-raised turkeys but none of them survived, Garver said.

The wild turkey population in Illinois has generally declined over the past 15 years but Garver said there have been signs of a resurgence in the past two years, especially in the northern-most region of the state.

Turkey breeding season begins in late March and lasts until early April, according to the IDNR. Garver said that could explain the unusual activity of a male turkey, which often expands its territory while looking for a mate. The presence of a male turkey could also be an indicator of hens nearby, as males do not typically travel more that a few miles, he said.

Garver said males, especially during mating season, can at times exhibit aggressive behavior toward people. He recommended against feeding the birds.

“I suggest you just let it do its thing,” he said. “… When they lose fear of humans, they can seem pretty tame and docile, but … it’s nothing for them to look at a person as a threat and they can get pretty aggressive.

“Give them space, give them respect and my recommendation is don’t feed them, or wildlife, in general.”

As of Thursday, March 28, Wilmette police had only received one recent call about a wild turkey and it was not a report of any dangerous behavior.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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