‘All we could do was run’: the strange story of Gerald, the turkey who terrorized a city

The Guardian – By Kari Paul/Oakland – Thursday Nov 26, 2020

When the bird who dominated Oakland’s rose garden turned violent, the question of his fate caused ‘rifts that will never heal’

The turkey locked eyes with her from across the park.

Like many Oaklanders, sixteen-year-old Jojo Thompson had heard plenty of stories about Gerald, the “feisty” turkey harassing visitors in the city’s rose garden. But before visiting the seven-acre public park with a friend on a recent October afternoon, she thought the tales had been exaggerated.

After seeing the agitated turkey closing in on some people nearby, Thompson and her friend took refuge behind a tree. But they weren’t safe for long – Gerald soon had the teens in his sight. The bird started stalking them, menacingly, Thompson recalled, then chased them up the hill and out of the park. She lost both her shoes in the process.

“I had heard of his attacks, but I never thought it would happen to me,” Thompson said. “All we could do was run.”

Gerald’s unusually aggressive behavior in the rose garden has taken on an almost mythical status in parts of the California city over the past six months. Stories of his reign of terror in the otherwise tranquil spot first spread across town, then sparked national and international headlines.

The reports were often similar: Gerald would spot an unsuspecting victim from across the garden. He would take off running, either chasing them away or, if they stood their ground, mounting and scratching them until they fled. He often targeted the young and older people – those who could not quickly outrun him. He seemed particularly attracted to wheeled vehicles including, unfortunately, baby strollers.

When angry, he puffed up his chest, towering over 4ft tall. And despite his bulk, he was swift – a typical adult male turkey can weigh up to 25lbs, run at 25mph, and fly at up to 55mph. Wild turkeys have a 270-degree field of vision and can see three times more clearly than 20/20 – making it easy for Gerald to spot his victims from across the garden.

Gerald’s antics transfixed the city, with residents hunkered down at home because of the pandemic and wildfire smoke following the saga on social media, blogs and news reports. A fierce debate emerged: what should be done? Ban visitors from the park? Move Gerald to less frequented areas? Should he, perhaps, be euthanized?

On the surface, it was the story of a ticked-off turkey menacing an otherwise bucolic neighborhood. But beneath, the battle over Gerald’s fate revealed far more about his human neighbors, their response to a historic pandemic, and whether they can coexist with nature – or with each other.
‘A winged boogie man, a Cerberus of the rose garden’

It is unclear how long Gerald had roamed the rose garden, or when he was given his name. Some say they saw the bird fly into the garden about four years ago. Many started recognizing Gerald because of his fanned tail, missing a prominent feather on the left side.

What is evident, however, is that Gerald began to turn on his human neighbors this year.

According to a Guardian tally of online reports, Gerald harassed more than 100 people in 2020.

Attacks from the turkey became so common that some people would not enter the rose garden without a weapon: a stick, a rake, or an umbrella were widely suggested. One person said he used pepper spray. Some people stopped going to the park altogether.

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Video source: www.youtube.com

Posted by Teri Perticone

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