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Bloomington turkey becomes local celebrity, despite authorities' pleas

An urban turkey has been feasting on french fries and napping in the same Bloomington spot for months
Named by residents after Penn Avenue, Penny likes to wait by the Burger King drive-thru for french fries

Named by residents after Penn Avenue, Penny likes to wait by the Burger King drive-thru for french fries

When Nancy Webb arrives to work each morning at Hallmark Dry Cleaners in Bloomington, she often finds a visitor waiting for her.

Lately, Penny the turkey has been snoozing on the doormat until she wakes him up at 7 a.m. He lingers in the doorway — sometimes strutting into the store — until she lures him away with a cracker.

“I open the front doors and he walks right in, like he owns the place,” Webb says. “He’s gotten more bold with that, but the turkey’s harmless.”

Once he’s done at the dry cleaner’s, Penny usually strolls over to United Liquors across the street. Owner Dan Condon regularly finds him snuggled up in the indented doorway when he arrives to work at 11 a.m.

“I don’t have concerns,” Condon says. “He does leave a lot of little turkey presents around — like turkey turds —but we just clean them up. At this point, that’s all we do.”

When Penn Lake Roast Beef re-opened, Penny was one of the first ones in line. 

When Penn Lake Roast Beef re-opened, Penny was one of the first ones in line. 

While some Bloomington residents say their Penny sightings date back two or three years, business owners near Penn Avenue South and 90th Street agree he has made near-daily appearances since March.

“I think it’s given everybody something fun during this COVID stuff,” Webb said. “I think it just brought people happiness … Penny’s a big deal around here; people love Penny.”

Penny’s favorite spot is outside Burger King, where customers toss him fries from the drive-thru, to the chagrin of authorities. Earlier this month, the Bloomington Police Department issued a notice asking the public to stop feeding the turkey.

The city’s animal control unit lately has been receiving one or two calls a week regarding the turkey, according to Bloomington Police Deputy Chief Mike Hartley. Observers have reported aggressive behavior, that people are feeding it, and that it’s blocking traffic, he said.

“He loves to go in the middle of the intersection during rush hour and cause traffic jams. That’s his favorite thing,” Condon said. “I swear to god, that’s when he heads out to the intersection. There’s lots of cars around, lots of action, he likes that.”

Videos on social media show the turkey approaching motorcyclists.

Video provided by Denise Bosak

“People freak out, but he’s not going to hurt anybody,” said motorcyclist Pete Feider. “He puffs up his wings a little bit and makes some pecking noises towards you, but he’s harmless … you just kind of shoo him away, or let him peck on your boot, it doesn’t matter,” he said, casually adding, “he’ll chase you down the street quite a way.”

Whether the turkey is “chasing” pedestrians and acting “aggressive” can vary according to the comfort level of the person reporting the behavior, said Scott Noland, area wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 

When turkeys stay in a particular area, it’s usually because of a food source — whether intentional or not, he said. Over time, they can associate humans with food and, as they grow more comfortable with them, act more boldly.

“The bird might come up to people for a handout and the people might think it’s trying to scare them or chase them,” Noland said. “That’s why we say, don’t feed the turkeys.”

Video provided by Mark Hultgren

Penny's next steps uncertain

Relocating the turkey isn’t preferable for the turkey or humans, Noland said.

First of all, “catching the bird is difficult to do,” he says. “And then, once they learn to associate people with food, and they’ve been successful getting that food source handout, they can potentially replicate that somewhere else.”

Earlier in the spring, when Penny sightings began to pick up, Condon says he saw animal control officers attempting to catch what he believes was Penny.

“It was the funniest thing you would ever see. These animal control officers with big butterfly nets trying to catch him,” he said.

The Bloomington police department, which oversees the city's animal control unit, says it has no plans to relocate or euthanize the turkey, and is instead waiting to see cutting off its food source will prompt the turkey will leave on its own. 

“We’re hoping that one of two things happens: the turkey kind of returns to its natural environment, or we can just relocate it to a better habitat,” Hartley said. “We’re hoping for a happy ending for this story.”

But not everyone wants to see Penny leave.

“You can call me crazy, but I want to keep him around,” says 20-year-old Bloomington resident Buddy Michaelson. “Every time I go past that crossway there, I look for him. It’s just kind of funny that he’s blocking all these cars. If he causes me to be five minutes late to work, that’s OK. At least I had a laugh.”

It didn't seem like people got the memo to stop feeding the turkey at Burger King this week, where Penny was spotted napping and scoring some snacks. 

"Everybody loves to feed him," a Burger King worker said after she led him away from the building's entrance. "He's here everyday, the kids come to see him." 

If anything, the turkey has been good for business, she said. 

Webb, the manager at Hallmark Dry Cleaners, agrees. After a photo of the turkey on the business Facebook page garnered over 800 likes, she started a "Penny special" that customers can mention for a discount. And if they can point Penny out from the shop, she'll grant them an extra 10% off for shirt cleaning.  

"I thought, you know what, we’re slow, let’s run with this," Webb said. 

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Animal control urges residents to stop providing food

The good news for Penny's fans is that there are plenty of natural food sources within Bloomington. Turkeys thrive in “fringe habitats,” such as wooded areas, prairies and wetlands, which can be found across the metro. They typically eat insects, amphibians and acorns, Noland said.

“We’ve had a really good oak year,” he said. “So that’s one good thing about our metro, we have a lot of oak trees.”

As tempting as it may be to give in to his big brown eyes and give him a french fry, the best thing people can do for Penny is help him move on to natural food sources, Noland said.

“If they really care about the turkey, they should not feed it so it will move back into natural areas,” Noland said. “By feeding them in a location that’s pulling them from a natural habitat, you end up doing more harm to the bird, potentially putting it in the way of traffic.”

He continued: “Just enjoy it and be proud that we have it in the metro, but keep it wild, because we are supposed to live harmoniously — the turkey and the humans.” 

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