This is the time of year when we often see wild turkeys in Sonoma County. This is also the time of year that we see their domestic cousins advertised in the newspapers as a tasty meal for the holidays. An article I read recently in Audubon magazine states that the first Thanksgiving probably did not include a turkey; more likely it was goose or duck. Nevertheless, turkeys have become synonymous with Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I know, I know - there are some folks out there who donít like wild turkeys. Donít blame the turkeys. They are just out there doing what turkeys do, which includes scratching up flower beds, landing on cars, pooping on sidewalks, and strolling across putting greens. The blame here lies on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which introduced turkeys in the mid-60s for hunting purposes. The introduction of these birds has been wildly successful, to the point that some people are now calling them a nuisance. Fortunately, most people donít feel that way.
From time to time we get calls about wild turkeys at Wildlife Rescue. People want us to come out and remove them. This is something we wonít do, as it is against the law to re-locate wildlife. We tell people who are having problems with wild turkeys not to feed them. Turkeys are perfectly capable of finding their own food. Feeding any kind of wildlife is not recommended. It causes problems, not only for the feeder, who will wind up with more turkeys than they bargained for, but for their neighbor who doesnít like turkeys. If turkeys are causing problems in your yard and you donít want them there, motion-detecting sprinklers are very effective.
The natural diet of a wild turkey includes insects, seeds, acorns, nuts, berries and more. Occasionally they will eat small reptiles, such as lizards and snakes. Being the omnivorous creatures that they are is one reason they are such a successful species.
A male turkey can weigh up to 30 pounds. While these birds are most often on the ground, they are very adept fliers and, despite their weight, can fly up to 50 miles an hour. Courtship of the hens begins in the spring with the males gobbling, spreading their tail feathers, and dragging their wings. Their nests are shallow dirt depressions often in poison oak and tall grasses. Hens lay 10 to 14 eggs, which incubate for at least 28 days. The young turkeys hatch ready to go and usually leave the nest within 24 hours of their hatching.
There are many predators of turkey eggs and nestlings, including raccoons, opossums, skunks, foxes, raptors and owls; however, humans are the leading predators of adult turkeys.
As for me, I love these beautiful birds and it is always a treat to see them. Sometimes they will stroll through our property or we see them in the adjoining vineyards. One amazing little miracle happens almost every year, and that is on Thanksgiving Day, when out on our morning walk, there is one area on our road where we see a large flock of turkeys. As a vegetarian, I wish them well and tell them that on this day of days they are so lucky to be wild and free, before going home to a Thanksgiving feast that does not include turkey.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.