Spotting the occasional wild turkey isn’t an unusual occurrence in Ashwaubenon, Wis., a village on the outskirts of Green Bay where suburban cul-de-sacs give way to wooded farmland. But over the summer, residents started to notice that one turkey was different from all the rest.
Smoke, as they eventually named him, was a loner who didn’t travel with a flock. He liked to chase cars, waddling after them at a surprisingly fast clip as if he was telling them to get out of his neighborhood. But he also was willing to get unusually close to people, gobbling at them like he had something important to say.
Tammy Stumbris-Czachor heard loud, nonstop honking outside her door one day early this fall and figured it had something to do with a Green Bay Packers game. But when the 51-year-old homemaker and holistic practitioner went outside to take a look, she saw Smoke standing in the middle of a four-way intersection as if he were directing traffic. Since then, she’s noticed that the bird has a routine: Every day around rush hour, he’ll head to the same median, as if he’s reporting for duty.
“There’s other turkeys in the area, but none like Smoke,” she told The Washington Post. “He stands out from the crowd. He really has a personality.”
For months, officials have tried to get Smoke to move along, fearing that eventually he’ll cause a car accident. But so far, no one has been able to catch him.
“Our animal control officers are pretty good, but he has some ninja-like moves,” Ashwaubenon Public Safety Commander Randy Tews told The Post. “They have a hard time getting him.”
Smoke’s slick moves and brazen behavior — he’ll peer into the windows of local businesses and chase after police cruisers — have made him an unexpected celebrity. Locals refer to him as “the mayor,” and people from neighboring towns stop by to see him on their way to Packers games. So far, more than 1,700 people have joined a Facebook group titled “Smoked Turkey — Mayor of Ashwaubenon,” where upward of a dozen posts each day document his latest exploits.
“I live in Arizona, but I’m from Ashwaubenon,” said one recent post. “I LOVE following this crazy turkey! I hope the cops don’t catch him! LIVE FREE SMOKE! LIVE FREE!”
Earlier this month, officials from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources were spotted near Smoke’s favorite intersection, holding large nets. Residents panicked as the Facebook group exploded with rumors that Smoke had been captured. But a few hours later, he was spotted calmly checking out his reflection in the windows of a nearby office building.
“There was an attempt,” Tews confirmed. “He’s a pretty sly bird there, and I think he knew what was up."
The plan had been to relocate Smoke to a nearby wildlife sanctuary, Tews said. Police are worried that people aren’t driving safely because they’re too busy taking photos of the uninhibited turkey and that drivers who don’t expect to see Smoke in the middle of the road could cause a pileup if they slam on their brakes to avoid hitting him. They also fear that Smoke will end up getting hit by a car and have begged residents to stop encouraging his dangerous behavior by feeding him. And while there haven’t been any reports of Smoke injuring or attacking anyone, Tews said that parents have complained about the turkey chasing children when they get off the school bus.
“Nobody wants to be the bad guy,” he added. “But eventually, if it comes down to it, we’ve got to do what’s safest for everyone involved.”
Some residents have made their stance on the issue visible by ordering T-shirts that say “I stand with Mayor Smoke.” They argue that the rogue turkey has never tried to hurt anyone and always stays several feet away from people, even when they’re trying to feed him.
“It’s a turkey, not a mountain lion,” Andrew Nowakowski, a 38-year-old produce department manager who is one of Smoke’s die-hard defenders, told The Post. “There was a mother on the Facebook group complaining that the turkey chased her daughter on her bicycle as she was riding home from work. I responded to the comment — and I got some heat for this — if your child gets its a-- kicked by a turkey, it deserves it. How are you going get your a-- kicked by a turkey? Yes, it has chased people’s bikes, but it doesn’t get physical with them.”
Police are hoping Smoke will leave on his own once the heavy snowfall starts, but are monitoring the bird’s behavior in the meantime to make sure that he doesn’t get aggressive.
“I think some folks will be sad to see him go,” Tews acknowledged. “He’s brought a lot of smiles to people’s faces here. We’re a divided country, and here this turkey is directing traffic for folks on their way to work, and it gives them something to cheer about.”
Supporters have suggested that the village should hold a ceremony to “pardon” Smoke on Thanksgiving, but not everyone in Ashwaubenon is as charmed by the turkey’s presence. Smoke’s Facebook fan group occasionally features complaints from residents who say that wild turkeys have left droppings on their property or messed up their lawns. The town will have a turkey problem on its hands if people keep leaving out bread and corn for Smoke, they warn.
Nowakowski said those detractors are in the minority. For most people, he said, Smoke’s “goofball” behavior has been an unexpected source of joy.
“Life is hard and people are just trying to get by and go to work and pay their bills,” he said. “To have something like this that you encounter on a daily basis that just brightens your day, it’s nice.”
Plus, he added, Smoke has created a sense of community that he’s never experienced before in his eight years living in Ashwaubenon. In a town where people typically keep to themselves, bonding over the bird’s quirky antics has been the start of friendships between people who might never have interacted otherwise, he said.
“It’s something you can find commonality around, regardless of your political affiliation or what you do for a living,” he said. “Everyone gets a kick out of this turkey.”
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