By Nikki Muench
Over the last few years, seeing wild turkeys in our gardens, on our fences or garages, or standing in the middle of the road, has become yet another normal Bay Area occurrence. Whether you enjoy these dinosaur descendants roaming your neighborhood, or you find them annoying because they scratch up your yard and pick apart your flowers, their presence in our neighborhoods has certainly sparked curiosity about why they are here and how exactly we live with them.
The wild turkey, Melegris gallopavo, is wide-ranging across North America and has five subspecies, four of which have been transplanted in California at one point or another since the mid-1800s. The most common subspecies now found in California are the Rio grande and the Merriam’s. As evidenced by garden and yard destruction when a posse of turkeys passes through (a group of turkeys a also called a “crop”, “dole”, “gang” [my personal favorite], and a “raffle”), seeds, fruits, nuts, and arthropods are tasty favorites that are dug up by turkeys. As many California residents have come to discover, wild turkeys are surprisingly good flyers, so 6-foot fences are unlikely to deter them if there is a particularly favorable food source, like a bird feeder, on the other side.
In Albany, there used to be a gang of turkeys that made its rounds through various neighborhoods close to the Albany-Berkeley border, and I have seen these turkeys cross streets in crosswalks, electing one or two larger turkeys to stand in the middle of the road and behave much like a human crossing guard! With this particularly large group of turkeys (I have seen at least twelve together), they certainly left a lot of scat and scratched dirt (sometimes scratched cars) in their wake, but I have not known them to cause much more ruckus than the occasional traffic jam and neighborhood fascination.
While wild turkeys are typically scared away by the presence of humans, two factors can change the way people and turkeys interact.Breeding season (March-August, peak season May-June) dramatically changes the way turkeys behave with each other and toward people. It’s always a good idea to give wildlife plenty of space, and even more so when it’s breeding season as these large birds (upwards of 20 pounds!) can become aggressive toward people. Additionally, a steady supply of food in one particular location or front yard, such as a bird feeder, can allow turkeys to get very comfortable in that space, whether or not the bird feeder was intended for them. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests removing temptation from your yard if you’ve noticed turkeys spending too much time by a bird feeder.
This large characters have certainly added a new layer to our Bay Area urban wildlife scene, and are fascinating to observe. Plus, if you have the opportunity to see a turkey actually trot, you’ll suddenly see a feathered dinosaur instead of bird zooming down your street!
National Wildlife Federation Blog: blog.nwf.org/2011/11/twelve-unusual-and-fascinating-facts-about-wild-turkeys/
CDFW WIldlife Investigations Lab Blog:
Life history account for wild turkey – California Wildlife Habitat Relationships System:
Keep Me Wild: Wild Turkey – California Department of Fish and Wildlife: