Police say the birds were creating traffic and safety issues near the intersection of West Housatonic and South streets. But residents near the Herberg Middle School questioned whether the killings were necessary.
"You've got to be kidding me," said Elizabeth Kirk of Marshall Avenue when she heard the news. "I just saw them this morning on Crofut Street. That's ridiculous."
Police responded to calls of a turkey being a nuisance shortly before 4 p.m. in the area of South Street. Lt. Michael Wynn said that police have been aware of the hens for months and that the birds have been creating a number of traffic problems of late.
"We've been monitoring their movements, and my guys decided (yesterday) that the safety issues were too great," Wynn said.
Wynn said cars traveling in the high-volume traffic area had to dodge the stubborn birds, which at times strolled nonchalantly through the middle of streets and intersections. He gave the orders to put the birds down.
Workers at Southgate Motors Inc. said they saw two police cruisers following the birds as they walked west on the sidewalk alongside West Housatonic Street.
"A few more cars pulled up, and then we heard shots," said one worker, who didn't want to be identified. "I thought it seemed strange to shoot them."
Wynn said one of his officers, whom he would not name, determined that a grassy area west of Yankee Suites Extended Stays was a safe area to discharge his sidearm. He fired multiple shots, killing one and wounding another.
A Florida man staying at the suites said he heard something outside his window.
"My roommate said he thought he heard gunshots," said the man, who also did not want to be named. He pointed to an area near the woods where about a dozen feathers were scattered across the lawn.
The wounded bird fled and eventually crawled underneath the Crowne Plaza parking garage, where Wynn later found the animal and destroyed it.
"We believe these were the Pomeroy Avenue birds," Wynn said. "We never like having to put down animals. It's unfortunate and it bothers me. But at some time, you have to balance safety issues against letting animals live."
Wynn said that by law Pittsfield Animal Control Officer Joseph Chague cannot handle wild animals as part of his job. Police had contacted MassWildlife earlier in the week about relocating the birds. Wynn said state officials had said they would not be able to intervene until today at the earliest. Wynn said the decision to kill the birds had to be made before someone was hurt.
Tom Keefe, district manager of the Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, could not be reached for comment.
"It's not like they went out there with guns ablazing," said Police Chief Anthony Riello. "They followed policy, and it was controlled. The animals were creating a problem, and there was nowhere to put them."
The birds were placed in a black garbage bag and brought to Vicon Resource Recovery facility on Hubbard Avenue, where they were to be incinerated.
"I think there was a lapse in judgment," said Kirk's husband, Ernie, "whether it was by the police in acting too hastily, or by MassWildlife, (which) didn't send someone out soon enough."
The turkeys' tameness may have led to their demise. The Kirks both said the birds have been in the Herberg School area for the last few months, seemingly unfazed by walking within feet of humans. The Kirks believe the nearby PCB cleanup work on the Housatonic River pushed the birds toward urban areas.
"We were fascinated by them," Elizabeth Kirk said. "I took pictures of them."
So did Pete Andersen, 35, of Emerson Avenue. Andersen said his young children loved to watch the hens pick away at the grass. Andersen videotaped the birds as they perused local byways.
"The guy who drives the ice cream truck told me that one of them jumped into his truck once," Andersen said.
Patricia Cazavelan of Marshall Avenue said she would watch the birds sunbathe in the bed of her neighbor's truck.
"The little girl down the street had a birthday party a few weeks ago and the turkeys stopped by. They were the main attraction," she said. "I thought, 'Isn't that cute?' The turkeys thought everyone was their friend."
Robert Geller, a sixth-grade teacher at Herberg, said school administrators were concerned at first that the birds could pose a threat to the children. They had Chague come to the school to investigate, and all seemed fine. Geller said the children took to the birds immediately.
"For the first day of class, the turkeys were the main focus," Geller said. "Then they became part of the natural landscape. At one point, you could see them out my classroom window. They laid down together on the blacktop, sleeping like a dog all sprawled out. I've never seen that before."
Geller said the children often wanted to feed the birds, but the teachers had warned them against doing so. He said he was excited to see the birds, with it being fall, and used them one day as a science lesson to teach the children about the differences between male and female turkeys.
The school is in the midst of holding a contest to rename the school mascot and many of the children, Geller said, suggested changing the nickname from Timberwolves to Turkeys.
"It was exciting having them around," he said.