They started out as a novelty, but many question if they have become a nuisance. Granted, they are fun to watch as they waddle across the road, and during mating season the tom’s displays and antics are quite impressive and humorous. But the wild turkeys, it seems, have become the most abundant bird sightings these days, causing quite a bit conversation in my neighborhood.
Turkeys are opportunistic. I learned this first-hand in late August when we went out of town. When we left, the turkeys moved in. We came home from 10 days away and our back yard looked like a battleground. Twigs and leaves plucked and scattered every which way, trails beaten down in the underbrush and unmown lawn, scratched raw earth, and poop everywhere. We had to go on turkey poop patrol to re-inhabit our backyard.
I am glad we have wild animals living among us, I truly am. But at what point does cohabitation become pestilence? Wild turkeys are not even native to Washington state. They are Midwest and Eastern native birds and were highly prized and easily domesticated during the era of nation building. By 1930, they were nearly extinct in North America from over-hunting and habitat loss as settlers cleared hardwood forests in rapid rates. Recovery efforts went into effect, and the birds were brought to the West Coast. The sub-species here are called Merriam’s.
They do not weather extreme winters well and need cover such as evergreens for thermal and predator protection. As the climate has warmed, the turkeys it seems have taken off after a few good winters here in the valley. Because they are not native, it begs the question, do they have a natural predator other than man to keep them in check?
We had a cougar in our neighborhood this summer. My first thoughts was, “let’s hope it’s following the turkeys!” They don’t seem to have been on the menu, because just this morning I counted 21 in our neighborhood flock. Because they can fly, they easily escape predation and continue to proliferate. They apparently only have one clutch per year, but can lay up to 17 eggs. Laying one egg per day for up to two or more weeks, hatching follows a similar daily sequence.
All of our neighborhood turkey’s plumage are colored in the typical modelled brown, except one “ugly duckling” who waddles around in a light buff beige suite. Not quite as starkly white as a domestic gobbler, but distinctly different from the rest. Now nearing full size, this outcast hasn’t been ostracized yet, so I don’t expect a swan to emerge.
Farther east in Spokane County, wildlife officials have given the green light to residents to collect turkey eggs and cull them or paint them with oil which inhibits development — a process called addling. Anecdotal evidence shows that it seems to be working as fewer sightings have been reported as complaints.
Here in the Methow no such approach has been authorized, nor is there a fall hunt for them. As turkey day draws nearer, frustration surges. We have eaten them during the spring, but it’s not the same. You can hunt them in the spring, but not in town limits, which leaves those of us town dwellers with continued nuisance management. Our best solution so far is our lovable family canine. How about a fall season Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife? It seems about time.