By the time Mark Poepping saw the turkey, it had already been shooed away from a nearby school, chased from an apartment complex and nearly captured by armed officers before soaring, birdlike, to the top of a three-story building.
That’s quite a turkey, he thought, raising his 2-year-old to the window as the big bird ran past his house in St. Paul Park.
“He was right out here in the front,” said Poepping, pointing to his street. “We watched him chase this little kid down to where those trucks are parked.”
Puffing its feathers at passing cars, chasing children at bus stops, its bald head turning from side to side, a wild turkey has moved into a St. Paul Park neighborhood.
Local police begged residents to stop feeding the bird in a Facebook post last week. They also nicknamed it Toni the Terrible Turkey. Their warning released a flood of 180 comments from Toni fans and survivors.
“Me and my son saw it attack a child last week and three adults today including myself,” wrote Kellee Barth, who said she called police.
“I understand your concern!” posted Mary Leonhardt. “But Toni the Terrible Turkey would make a great storybook for the children! ... Fly high Toni the Terrible Turkey ... Fly high!”
The turkey has starred in shaky parking lot videos shot by residents of the Park Place I & II Apartments. The turkey sometimes nests in a pine tree nearby and has approached people as they get into their cars. In one video, the turkey stands a few feet from the driver’s window before suddenly launching itself at the glass. It lands on the car’s roof and pecks at the car until the video ends.
The police posting and the videos were intended to warn people, but they’ve also made Toni a social media star.
Poepping, for one, sounded disappointed that he hadn’t seen the turkey until just recently.
It has lingered in the area of Pullman and Third avenues since the week of Thanksgiving, according to Joe Hillyer, the custodian at Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion school in St. Paul Park. He shooed it away from the school with a mop handle one day.
“Two hours later I went out the back way and there he was, back by the dumpsters,” said Hillyer, who said the bird eventually left. “I’ve had boilers break down; I’ve had fire alarms going crazy, all kinds of stuff. Not too many turkeys, though.”
The police warning against feeding the turkey has been selectively heard. Some people responded that the turkey just wants food, and it’s been lingering behind the apartment complex where it found safe harbor and frozen bread crusts.
The apartments sit just a few blocks from Riverside Park and the Mississippi River, where turkeys and other wildlife abound. The mystery of why this turkey ventured away from the others isn’t easily answered, but a comment on the police department’s Facebook page suggested that someone local named it Beverly and has been feeding it birdseed.
For the record, turkeys are omnivores, according to the Audubon Society. Indeed, Toni, aka Beverly, apparently eats anything.
“I fed her a McDouble because I had a coupon! … I’m truly sorry!” John Gulner posted.
‘Quite the bird’
St. Paul Park resident Ken Kildahl said he was raised on a farm and isn’t afraid of wild animals. He’s more worried that overprotective neighbors might do the bird harm.
He said his daughter saw some teenagers trying to whip the turkey with what looked like bungee cords. She shouted at them to stop.
Kildahl was present last week when local sheriff’s deputies arrived and cornered the bird against a wall. As they moved in, it leapt into the air and flew to the top of a three-story building.
“He’s quite the bird, he is,” he said.