Manhattan Wildlife: Zelda The Turkey Appears

By Joshua Gardner

Nov 20, 2012 1:41pm

ht zelda ny wild turkey wy 121120 wblog Manhattan Wildlife: Zelda The Turkey Appears

With Thanksgiving days away and the country’s collective mouth watering for poultry, the most populated spot in America might seem like the last place a turkey would want to roost. But that’s just what one very big bird has been doing every Thanksgiving since 2003.

Meet Zelda, Manhattan’s one and only wild turkey, who has called the city’s Battery Park home for the last decade.

“She’s a quirky bird,” Sarah Aucoin, director of the New York Park Service’s Urban Park Rangers, told ABCNews.com. “A downtown kind of bird.”

Zelda is believed to have entered Manhattan at its north end, through the Bronx, and slowly moved downtown until at her permanent home in the island’s extreme south end.

Aucoin said there are many unexpected wild animals in Manhattan, including peregrine falcons, hawks, barn owls, and even the occasional coyote. Flocks of turkeys, she said, aren’t uncommon on Staten Island and in the Bronx. Zelda just happens to be likely the only turkey on Manhattan, an island of over a million and a half people.

“There have been sightings of turkeys in Manhattan since 2002, all of them female,” said Aucoin, whose department is charged with educating folks about wildlife in New York City. “And we think it’s the same bird. Zelda.”

Named after Zelda Fitgerald, who supposedly roamed Battery Park during a nervous breakdown, the turkey commonly leaves the park and has been spotted as far north as the West Village and Tribeca, though she has always returned.

The last time Zelda went missing was during superstorm Sandy, which caused extreme flooding in Battery Park in late October. Though turkeys are poor flyers, they do roost in trees and Aucoin believes it’s possible Zelda never left the park during the storm, weathering it, instead, nestled in a tree.

“Wherever she went, we weren’t surprised she made it through the storm,” said Aucoin. “She’s a tough old bird.”

In fact, Zelda is very old. Male wild turkeys, which Aucoin said are prone to violence, often do not live past two years. Females often live a little longer, but the at least ten-year-old Zelda is already extremely long-lived for her kind.

Though the park service is firmly against anybody feeding wild animals, the Urban Park Rangers hope to keep Zelda around even longer by occasionally giving her chicken feed.

“We make an exception,” Aucoin said, “Because she’s just so important for teaching New Yorkers about the abundance of urban wildlife.”

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