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home : columns : columns November 16, 2018

2/6/2018 2:06:00 PM
Our "wild" turkeys are not so wild
By Jim Anderson

One of those marvelous phone calls came in the other day about "wild turkeys" messing up a Sisters resident's porch - and I mean really messing it up. There was turkey poop at least an inch thick all over the back porch that fell from turkeys spending the night in pines towering over the home. Turkeys eat; turkeys poop. That's just the way it is.

And there's a lot of 'em here in Sisters Country.

The big reason the turkeys perch over that poor woman's home is that her neighbor feeds them. That's what turkeys do: eat, congregate, and be happy.

The whole turkey thing got started because someone thought they should be "wild" so they could be hunted, an idea that gave rise earlier to the National Wild Turkey Federation and their slogan: "The Conservation of the Wild Turkey and the preservation of our hunting heritage." Whoopee!

But where did they get the wild turkeys to hunt? From what I can find searching the literature, they are Galliformes - birds native to North America. But, when I dug deeper I ran into the domestic turkey that originated in Mexico and apparently another came upon the scene from Levant (Eastern Mediterranean).

A word (or two) about Galliformes: The name describes a biological order of heavy-bodied ground-feeding birds that includes turkeys, grouse, chickens, New and Old World quail, ptarmigan, partridge, chukar, pheasant, and jungle fowl. All in all, there's about 290 species of them, one or more of which are found in essentially every part of the world and all hunted by humans.

The turkeys wandering all over Sisters Country pooping on residents' back porches originally came from Texas, via The Swamp/Willamette Valley. Since 1961, more than 10,000 of them have been transplanted to locations all over Oregon, the result of moving nuisance turkeys to other parts of the state (where they become a new nuisance).

Turkey management is directed by Oregon's Wild Turkey Management Plan adopted by ODFW in 2004.

The overabundance of turkeys over in The Swamp becomes a pestiferous mess to operators of feed-lots. Turkey poop and cow food do not mix. When turkeys reach the point where there are more of them than cows something's got to give, and the turkeys are hauled off.

Our wily coyotes may have thought they'd died and gone to heaven when they saw those gigantic meals walking around. But those big gobblers have something going for them; coyotes don't seem to have much of an effect on their numbers, even with bobcats also getting a few from time to time. The turkey populations we have around this neck of the woods just keep growing. Out by Camp Polk they even cause traffic jams.

Baby turkeys (known as poults) are subject to predation by great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, domestic cats and dogs, and of all things, ants. Ants are like coyotes; they never pass up free food, and wildlife biologists tell us ants on the prowl for food are capable of tearing a newly hatched poult apart and hauling it back to their nest in small chunks.

Can you imagine the celebration in an ant colony when one comes home smelling of turkey guts?

And as it is with mule deer in Sisters Country, homeowners have to put up with those turkeys, which is especially irksome if said homeowner is trying to grow a garden. The homeowner who started this discussion watches them sail over her home and come to perch right over her porch - because her neighbor feeds them.

Not good! Just like with mule deer, turkeys DO NOT NEED TO BE FED. Stated another way, if you're going to feed wild birds, please limit it to song birds and quail and let it go at that.

According to ODFW, turkey hunting is at its prime in Oregon, making this a great time to land the fowl. But PLEASE, not in your backyard (that's against the law).

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