Turkeys, coyotes and deer … Oh my!
The presence of wildlife in the far northwest suburbs of Detroit hasn’t reached Jumanji levels yet, but social media posts suggest there are more wild animal sightings than ever before in the growing suburban communities like Plymouth, Canton or Northville.
And the encounters haven’t always been pleasant for residents.
One retired couple taking a recent morning stroll near their Plymouth Township home reported being threatened by multiple wild turkeys. A potentially imminent attack was subdued by a passing motorist who stopped his car and helped distract the fowl creatures.
An early-October post on the Nextdoor app described how a Canton Township husband and wife — while watching TV — heard the unmistakable sounds of howling coyotes not far from their backyard. The following day, when they checked the vicinity the noises seemed to be echoing from, they found the bloody carcass of an eight-point buck.
Countless sightings of roaming deer and on-the-prowl coyotes have been captured by backyard security cameras — and throughout autumn 2020, several motorists near the intersection of Beck and Joy roads snapped photos of a rebellious wild turkey stopping traffic while standing directly under the light at the busy crossroads.
Nearby in Oakland County, Farmington Hills officials are urging a regional plan to address the increasing deer encounters among residents and motorists.
Is the rise in sightings due to westward residential development into once-rural landscapes pushing the creatures into human habitats, or is there another underlying reason at the heart of the movement?
Hannah Schauer, a communications and education coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division, says it’s probably a combination of factors.
“Some wildlife — coyotes, wild turkeys and deer included — are very adaptable to different habitat types,” Schauer said. “They eat a wide variety of food sources and they can usually find what they need in a variety of habitats, including more residential environments.”
Schauer explained wildlife that can be found in metro Detroit are not threats to humans; however, there are exceptions.
“Wildlife are generally fearful of people, so they don’t want any confrontations with humans,” she said. “But we do see cases where animals become habituated, usually because there is some food source involved.
“When they’re habituated and they’re used to being around people and people are feeding them, it can cause them to lose some of those wild instincts, and make them start associating people for food. These are cases when we see them exhibit unusual behavior.”
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Schauer confirmed that wild turkeys are known, in rare instances, to become aggressive toward humans, especially during mating season and when food is involved.
“Wild turkeys are attracted to bird feeders, so as a preventative measure, it can be helpful to move bird feeders,” she said. “Male turkeys tend to get defensive when fighting for a female or a food source. They’ve been known to see their reflection in a window or in a vehicle’s hubcap and feel a need to fight with what they see.”
Canton Township Supervisor Anne Marie Graham-Hudak said the township does its best to preserve open space and wooded areas when developers seek to build on rural land in the western portion of Canton. In the recently-released U.S. Census data, Canton was among the fastest-growing communities in Wayne County, passing the City of Livonia with nearly 100,000 residents as the third largest municipality in the county.
Regarding the increase in wildlife sightings in suburban areas, Graham-Hudak said she’s read multiple articles that this occurrence has unfolded with regularity since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
“I’ve read several articles stating that when people were in their homes more and not driving around as much, animals came out more from the wooded areas,” she said. “Now that people are out more and getting back to work, it’s creating more issues because the wildlife is still out there.”
Data provided by the Canton Township Public Safety Department revealed that from Jan. 1, 2021, to Oct. 14, 2021, there had been 43 vehicular accidents involving animals in the township, although the type of animals involved in the incidents was not available.
Schauer said the pandemic has probably had some effect on animal sightings.
“I suspect, with people being at home more during those periods of time, it is likely that they observed wildlife in the area that they may have not seen previously since they were not at home as much,” Schauer said.
Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise said his office has experienced an uptick in the number of resident-generated calls reporting wildlife sightings.
“I think, to some extent, it’s a result of a healthier ecosystem; I don’t think animals are being drawn out by residential development,” Heise said. “I think the environment is more protective of wildlife so animals can live healthier now than they could in the past in urban developments.
“I think it’s also a sign that animals — deer, for example — don’t have any natural predators left.”
Schauer said not all species of wildlife are as adaptable to suburban living as the animals that Canton and Plymouth township residents are seeing at an increased rate.
“Human development in general alters the landscape to the point where wildlife has to adapt to the changes or move elsewhere,” she said. “When fragmented into small pockets, some species don’t do well. These are the ones we often see on endangered lists.”
Contact reporter Ed Wright at email@example.com or 517-375-1113.