upper waypoint

Wild Turkeys: Strutting Around Your Suburbs, But Why?

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Wild turkeys above the East Bay (Tim Ereneta/flickr)

To some, it seems like wild turkeys are invading the Bay Area.

“Why are there so many wild turkeys everywhere? I see them on hikes in the Briones area. I see them at the gas station in Albany. I see them jumping on houses in lots of different areas. They just almost seem like a nuisance,” asks Bay Curious listener Amanda Upchurch.

Turkeys have a long history in California. A native species, Meleagris californica, once lived around the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. But that species went extinct thousands of years ago, and the turkeys we see today are not native to California.

The turkeys in your yard — or in Amanda’s case at the gas station — were introduced by the California Fish and Game Commission (now the Department of Fish and Wildlife) between 1959 and 1999 to encourage recreational hunting that would generate revenue through licenses and such.


“There were attempts in the late ’30s and ’40s to raise turkeys on game farms. They would then be released throughout the state,” says Scott Gardner, supervisor for upland game at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “But the problem with game farm birds is they don’t know how to survive in the wild.”

Fish and Game began live-trapping wild turkeys in places like Texas and Nevada, and releasing them in the California wilderness. These live-trapped turkeys thrived, successfully reproducing and growing their population in the state to the hundreds of thousands.

Wild Turkeys in front of the campanile at the University of California at Berkeley campus.
Wild turkeys in front of the Campanile on the UC Berkeley campus. (Melinda Young/flickr)

“It wasn’t controversial until they started popping up in backyards and vineyards,” says Gardner.

Gardner says turkeys prefer low- to mid-elevation forested-type habitats, like our coastal foothills. Yet many turkeys have developed a taste for the suburbs of Sacramento and the East Bay.

“Turkeys are largely ground-dwelling birds and like open areas and grasslands, like lawns. They also need trees, and most of our residential areas have trees,” says Gardner.

Then there’s the food. Some people feed the turkeys, which can turn a few stray birds into a large flock of regulars (with no fear of humans) in short order.

Turkeys know how to defend themselves and intimidate, and can become more aggressive in the spring during breeding season, but Gardner says turkeys are more likely to be a pest than a danger.

“They’ll poop on your roof and your sidewalk. They’ll scrape up your lawn. They’ll get in the middle of the street and cause traffic jams, or they’ll scratch your car up. That’s the kind of nuisance you can expect,” he says.

If you’re looking for a turkey dinner and have met the legal requirements — these wild turkeys are still fair game twice a year.  Additionally, if the birds are damaging property, residents can apply for a depredation permit to kill birds on their property.

In this week’s Bay Curious episode, we heard about a turkey that broke into prison. To hear a longer version of that story and other stories from Uncuffed, visit KALW.org/Uncuffed.

lower waypoint
next waypoint