It has become a familiar ritual for residents of one block on Cornell Avenue in the East Bay town of Albany: Every evening just after sunset, wild turkeys appear. They amble up the street, alone, then in twos and threes, then in larger groups, until maybe 30 have gathered. They gobble and screech. As they near the home of Renu Bhatt and Pareen Shah, they flap up to the tops of cars and onto rooftops; from there, they lumber through the air into a big redwood in Bhatt's and Shah's backyard, where they roost for the night.
The wild turkeys arrived about Thanksgiving, and they've turned the couple's backyard into a no-play zone for their two sons, Akash, 4, and Ajay, 1.
"You can see it's just a mess," Bhatt says. "There are droppings everywhere, especially if you go back behind the garage. So my kids aren't allowed to play in the backyard anymore. It's just infested."
That's not the only problem. Night-time noises--sirens, say, or a loud car passing nearby--agitate the turkeys and set off a round of squawking and gobbling, and that in turn wakes up the family. Bhatt is also concerned the big birds that have claimed her backyard as home can become aggressive.
The question now is: What to do to get the birds to move on?
Bhatt says officials from Alameda County Vector Control have advised her to try to harass the birds. Bhatt says that because of her cultural and religious background--she's Hindu, her husband, Shah, is a Jain--she wants to use a nonviolent approach.
"We've tried to say, 'Shoo!' and kind of make yourself big," Bhatt says. "And my son will be, 'Go away, turkeys, go away.' So we've all kind of tried." She says that more direct methods, like squirting a garden hose at the turkeys, has only prompted them to fly higher into the backyard redwood.
Vector control workers say they suspect neighborhoood residents are probably feeding the birds, thus encouraging them to stay. (The state Department of Fish and Wildlife says that's a common problem.)
Bhatt last week wrote a public appeal for help, and she and Shah are appealing to the Albany City Council to consider an ordinance to outlaw feeding wild animals. They also want the town to approach vector control and state wildlife officials about taking action to dislodge the turkeys before their spring breeding season begins and their numbers increase.