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Like It or Not, Wild Turkeys Proliferate in East Bay

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Don't they know what month it is? Three wild turkeys out of about 15 sit on a front yard off Gilman Street in Berkeley.  (Patricia Yollin/KQED)

For some people in the Bay Area, the guest of honor usually found on top of the Thanksgiving table has become a part of everyday life.

All you have to do is take a drive or walk through some of the more suburban and rural areas of the East Bay, and it might seem like wild turkeys are everywhere. Whether in local parks, on neighborhood front lawns or wandering in disorganized groups along local roads, sightings of the rustic, colorful big birds have become a part of the daily scenery for many around the Bay Area.

They're unwanted scenery for some, like Walnut Creek resident Niki DeSilva.

“They’re a nuisance,” says DeSilva. “They get in the way.”

An avid cyclist, DeSilva is less than nostalgic for the idyllic scenery of old when a gang of 30-pound birds with very little flying talent cross her bike path -- and stay there.

KQED's Carly Severn spotted this fella in Berkeley while on her way to work, adding a whole new dynamic to casual carpooling.
KQED's Carly Severn spotted this fella in Berkeley while on her way to work, adding a whole new dynamic to casual carpooling. (Carly Severn/KQED)

She admits it. She hates these birds.


“The turkeys just like to park their rear ends in the middle of the trail. And short of me running them over with my bicycle...”

Her voice trails off. But it doesn’t take too much imagination to guess what DeSilva may be thinking. She won’t do it. But she’s thinking it.

“More because I don’t want to clean up their feathers or their dead carcasses off my bike wheels,” DeSilva admits with a smile.

It’s a sentiment shared by others. Social boundaries are not part of the wild turkeys' basic priorities.

So what’s going on here? Where did this wild bird come from and why is it on your front lawn?

Wildlife biologist Joseph DiDonato has been in the Bay Area for more than 20 years. He says Meleagris gallopavo, better known as the California turkey, was actually invited here.

“In the '60s and '70s, the Fish and Game Department decided to increase the amount of turkeys for the sportsman opportunities,” says DiDonato, “and introduced them widely across the state.”

Now places like the Lafayette Reservoir are filled with them.

“They arrived probably around the year 2000. It was creating quite a stir,” recalls EBMUD park ranger Tom Brackett.

He was at the East Bay reservoir when the first two arrived.

“People were talking about the turkeys, and have you seen the turkeys today, and do you know where they are?” Brackett says with a laugh. “Well, those two turkeys had 10 or 12 turkeys.”

And the rest is history.

But it doesn’t stop at the reservoir’s edge. DiDonato confirms what has become an obvious fact for many Bay area residents. These turkeys have actually moved into our habitat -- our neighborhoods, streets, parks and school grounds -- and love it.

“They love our golf courses. They love our lawns. They love our swim beaches. And they love our neighborhoods.”

And as the population of wild turkeys continues to explode, solutions to reduce their number have been considered. But controlling the growth of these rambunctious, gobbling new neighbors isn’t as easy as it seems.

DiDonato says the turkeys are always one step ahead of us.

“In order to control turkeys via hunting, you have to be able to hunt them on a spot that’s available to hunting,” reasons DiDonato. “Most of the areas where you see turkeys -- they’re in the city, in recreational areas -- so you don’t have the opportunity for a sportsman to come in and hunt turkeys.”

It’s a strategy to be admired.

And the truth is, many have expressed nothing but love for the loud, slow-moving, 3-foot-tall birds with sharp talons.

“I like turkeys,” says DiDonato. “I like their inquisitive nature. Their kind of odd look. They’re very beautiful and colorful.”

Others, like cyclist DeSilva, have another point of view.

“The only good turkey is a dead turkey on my table on Thanksgiving Day.”

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