Wild Neighbors: Talking Turkey

By Joe Eaton
Tuesday April 05, 2011 - 02:58:00 PM
One of Berkeley's own wild turkeys in display mode.
"Feezo" via Wikimedia Commons
One of Berkeley's own wild turkeys in display mode.

The inexorable march of the wild turkeys continues. Lately we’ve been seeing them at the Gill Tract in Albany, feeding in the fields that the Canada geese occupy in winter. Maybe there’s a time-share arrangement. 

That encounter reminded me that we had interviewed a number of local wildlife professionals a couple of months ago for a Chronicle piece about problematic urban critters, and a lot of the material wound up on the cutting room floor. It seemed worth reprising in a more extended version. Herewith, five ways of looking at a wild turkey. 

Maggie Sergio, Wildcare: We get a lot of phone calls about turkeys. What typically happens, it usually boils down to someone feeding them and they become aggressive. In breeding season they will see their reflection in a hubcap and attack it. There was an issue in San Rafael and one or two people were feeding them. If they’ve been habituated, opening up an umbrella can shy them off. Or get a hose and spray their feet with water. There’s a scarecrow device that looks like a rain sprinkler and works on a motion sensor. That can work for a multitude of animals, but all things work all the time with wildlife. 

Susan Heckley, Lindsay Museum: There’s not much we can do about turkeys. Because they’re a non-native species we don’t give a lot of help to them. We can talk people through how to change their landscape to make it less attractive to turkeys. Once they’re on ground at a feeding spot they tend not to fly over fences. You have to take away their food sources and make sure the neighbors are not putting out food for them. 

Kyle Orr, Department of Fish and Game information officer: We tend to get the most wild turkey calls around Thanksgiving. There have been a number of approaches toward turkeys. Property damage is an issue—they scratch paint on cars, defecate on lawns. The Department tells people that feeding wild turkeys will bring the problem home to roost. I’m not aware of any recent increase in calls. Their numbers are very healthy, around 240,000 statewide. 

Eric Larson, Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Incidents Supervisor, Bay/Delta Region: Wild turkeys have been the biggest issue in Bay Area when someone in the community has been feeding them. Turkeys can also bring in predators, raising risk for people and pets. We’ve had a steady rise in reports over the last ten years. Where are the hot spots? It’s easier to identify geographical cold spots where turkeys don’t occur: high-elevation areas like the Sierra, drier areas where they tend not to be. They love golf courses. It’s not so much a matter of damage to the greens as being in the way. They also scare people. The toms will be defensive during breeding season. Altercations can occur. They find natural food sources in oak savannas and scrub areas. Some people leave bags of corn for them. Once they’re established in an area, it’s harder to get rid of them. Taking the leading tom out of the flock will disrupt the flock and they will disperse. Dogs do help quite a bit. Most of the predators for turkeys the human population doesn’t see—mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats. 

Daniel Wilson, Alameda County Vector Control: When I was a kid we would call somebody a turkey if they were acting stupid. But these turkeys aren’t stupid. They realize there’s more food in urban areas and people will feed them. There are also no predators. You can’t do anything to them without a Fish and Game depredation permit. We get a lot of calls and complaints. They dig up plants and scratch the paint on cars. We have a wildlife specialist who works with us and with the US Department of Agriculture who recently helped a condo complex manager exclude turkeys. Sometimes they’re trapped, and there are ranches where we can relocate them. Out in Rossmoor the turkeys got so bad they had USDA go out and shoot a bunch of them. We get turkey calls from Alameda, of all places. They migrate through the hill areas. They pick out a favorite area and hang out there. We’ve had a pretty big problem in Dublin, Pleasanton, all along hills from Hayward down to Fremont. Fish and Game has a wild turkey response plan delegating any responsibility to local authority. Turkeys are just a revenue source for Fish and Game.