Wild Turkeys Are Back In California


It’s late October, which means it’s finally starting to feel like autumn. Even if the season technically began on September 22nd, most of us just don’t get in the autumn mood until about a month has gone by. Whether it’s the changing leaves, the foggier, chillier weather, or the growing hype for Halloween, there’s many factors that contribute to our sudden excitement.

But there’s one seasonal change that, while less traditional, has become a crucial part of the autumn experience in California:wild turkeys. Around this time of year, nearly a quarter of California is occupied by wild turkeys gathering in urban and residential areas. You’ve probably seen them in small flocks at some point in the past-maybe you’ve already seen a few in your neighborhood this year.

So how do Californians feel about these birds being on their streets? Well, that’s easier to ask than answer; in short, it’s complicated.

On one hand, many are fond of the wild turkeys. They enjoy watching them flock throughout neighborhoods and live on front yards and sidewalks-it’s almost like the birds become actual neighbors.

But on the other hand, this turkey season isn’t just about some beautiful birds walking around-wild turkeys can create plenty of chaos. According to Keep Me Wild, a brochure from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), wild turkeys cause many small problems. They can “destroy flowers and vegetable gardens, leave their droppings on patios and decks, and roost on cars, scratching the paint.”

Ignoring these smaller complaints, the even larger problem with wild turkeys roaming neighborhoods is how aggressive they can get. As Keep Me Wild states, “Turkeys can become aggressive during the breeding season, occasionally even charging, threatening, and acting aggressively toward people.” Aggression in wild turkeys is often the result of receiving food from humans, so the CDFW urges people not to feed these birds.

Recently, a particularly aggressive turkey, given the name Gerald, was captured in Oakland after months of failure. Gerald was well known in the area, most notably for his appearance in the city’s Morcom Rose Garden. The bird started off as a beloved resident, but one day started terrorizing visitors, causing the garden to be closed back in summer. Gerald’s capture on October 22 was the work of Rebecca Dmytryk, the director of Wildlife Emergency Services.

The way she managed this capture is almost more interesting than the capture itself; after hearing Oakland Animal Services say that Gerald “preferred to attack the frail and elderly”, Dmytryk reportedly disguised herself as an old woman for the capture. She then baited the bird (with berries & seeds) into charging towards her before grabbing him by the scruff of his neck-a technique which thankfully does not hurt the bird. Since then, Gerald has been relocated to a wild area in the East Bay Hills with other turkeys, where he can be much safer and happier.

With all that said, there comes a question: should we see wild turkeys as friend or foe? In general, that’s up to each person to decide for themselves. But if you’re on the latter side of the argument, don’t get too annoyed at these birds. Maybe they won’t be here in California forever; who knows where they’ll end up traveling in the future. Will they continue to live on our streets every autumn, or find another region to roam? Whatever happens, one thing’s for sure; they’re here to stay this year, at least until the season’s end.

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