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03/20/2013 08:35 am ET | Updated May 20, 2013

Wild Turkeys Attack Maryland Drivers, Menace Churchgoers

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In 37 years of hunting, David Dukich has seen a lot of animal activity, but wild turkeys pouncing on a car was a first.

Dukich was driving Thursday on Opossumtown Pike near Sundays Lane when he saw two tom turkeys begin to peck and claw a stopped Greg's Driving School car in front of him. One bird jumped on the car's hood and used his spurs and beak to scratch and strike the windshield, Dukich said.

The feathered creatures then circled the car, and as it slowly moved ahead, the birds chased it.

"Then I pulled forward, and as soon as they saw me, they let the other car go and came after me," Dukich said.

The wild birds recently chased several members of Faith United Church of Christ on Opossumtown Pike, prompting the church to issue a notice in its newsletter to be wary of the wild turkeys.

Pastor Katie Penic saw the wild birds chase several church members who had to run inside the church, she said.

"We just saw it as a bizarre and funny thing," she said, "just as long as nobody gets hurt."

Thursday's experience with the birds was an unforgettable one for student driver Justin Ceresini, 21.

"I'd never really seen turkeys up that close before, and I didn't know what they were," Ceresini said. "I was nervous. I just thought they were some kind of bird.

"It was pretty wild. I was like, what do I do? I didn't want to just go because I didn't want to run over the turkeys."

Ceresini "panicked a little, but he survived," driving teacher Elena Acosta said. "He didn't even know what it was. I guess unless they are plucked and frozen, they don't know. "

The encounter made for a great story for his grandparents, Ceresini said.

"They were like, 'What? Attacked by turkeys?' and I said, yeah. It certainly is an unforgettable experience," he noted.

In her eight years teaching driving on Opossumtown Pike, Acosta had never before confronted turkeys, she said.

"I was afraid they were going to puncture the tire and we would be stuck, and we couldn't get out" of the car, Acosta said.

Ceresini did not want another turkey experience when he returned to driving class Friday, so Acosta scheduled a lesson in parallel parking.

Dukich said he has seen wild turkeys attack other birds and deer before, and even a jogger, but never saw them damage a car. And he has seen domesticated turkeys attack people, but not wild birds.

The pecking left a few scratches on both cars, but Dukich said the birds' behavior was hilarious.

"When you saw it, you couldn't help but laugh," he said.

Asked why he didn't take pictures, Dukich said he was laughing so hard he didn't think about photos.

'Exciting, but pretty scary'

Several Faith United members were cooking turkeys in the kitchen recently for a community supper when they saw a group of large turkeys in the churchyard, Debra Wilcox said.

"I don't know if it was divine interaction that they showed up, or if they were there to rescue their friends," Wilcox joked. "But they were chest-bumping against each other and running around."

Wilcox said she tried to get as close as possible to take pictures using her cellphone.

"I was thinking if I got around a tree, they wouldn't see me, but I underestimated how intelligent they are," Wilcox said. "As soon as they heard my camera click, they slowly turned their head and began to run toward me.

"It was exciting, but pretty scary," she said. "I hadn't run that fast in years."

The turkeys were beautiful, Wilcox said. They looked like Dr. Seuss characters, with multicolored blue, red and white heads.

"But if they're willing to attack a car like that, imagine what they would do to a human," Wilcox said. "Try explaining that to people in the emergency room, but our church motto is 'everyone is welcome,' turkeys included."

Several people thought the aggressive birds were protecting their territory in mating season.

Wild turkey biologist Bob Long of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources agreed.

"We haven't had a lot of reports of wild turkeys attacking people, but this is the time of the year when male gobblers' hormones start going," Long said.

Aggressive wild turkeys are not unheard of, he said.

Dukich has seen the toms chasing the younger male jakes to keep them from mating with the hens, he said.

Frederick County Animal Control Director Harold Domer said about 80 percent of Frederick County property is agricultural, and encountering wildlife should come as no surprise. He said, however, that most wildlife want to stay as far away from humans as humans want to stay from wildlife. Dukich did not call the game warden about the encounter, he said, because he wants the large flock around for a scheduled April 18 to May 23 turkey hunt.

Dukich has perfected his turkey call.

Toms gobble to call the hens in the spring, Dukich said, and when he gobbles, they come toward him to fight off other toms.

"Or, if I want to be sweet and sexy, I cluck like a hen" by using a mouthpiece, he said. ___

(c)2013 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

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