Posts Tagged ‘Wild Turkey’

As my wife and I were driving out of Berkeley a few days ago, we saw a group of five Wild Turkeys walking down the side walk of one of the  major streets.  When we turned a corner at the next intersection we saw another group of five crossing the street in front of us.   Many people were stopping their cars or coming out onto their front porches to watch and photograph the birds as they sauntered by.  The turkeys were completely unfazed by the attention as they calmly walked through the neighborhood.  With the Thanksgiving holiday just past, and this encounter fresh in my mind, I thought it would be appropriate to post on the Wild Turkey population of California.

Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are native to North America, and there are six recognized subspecies.  In the late 1800s they were nearly driven to extinction by a combination of heavy hunting and habitat loss which reduced the continent wide population to around 30,000 individuals restricted to remote locations.  In the 1970s reintroduction programs began to successfully bring the Wild Turkey back to large portions of its historical range.  But, Wild Turkeys are not native to the west coast.  The first recorded introduction of Wild Turkeys to California was in 1877 on a ranch on Santa Cruz Island where they were released for the express purpose of hunting.  More introductions followed, especially from the 1950s to the 1970s, and now there is an estimated population of 240,000 birds in California alone and they are found across 54 of 58 counties.  The birds we have here are largely of the Rio Grande subspecies (M. g. intermedia).  This subspecies is particularly long legged, generally weighs between 20 and 25 pounds, have body feathers that have a coppery-green sheen, and tail feathers and upper tail coverts that are tipped with tan.

As the population of Wild Turkeys in California has grown, they have increasingly moved into suburban areas.  Like deer, turkeys can adapt to human dominated landscapes and learn to thrive there.  This has led to an increase in human-turkey interactions.  Some of these interactions come in the form of turkeys doing damage to gardens and landscaped areas.  Agriculturally, turkeys eat wine grapes and have become a nuisance in many vineyards. And while males can become aggressive during the breeding season, the vast majority of the interactions between Wild Turkeys and humans are completely benign; just don’t feed them.

As an interesting aside, the reason they are called Turkeys has always puzzled me since these birds are not found in the country of Turkey at all.  I recently learned that the when these birds were first being imported to Europe from the new world they all came through trade routes that stopped in Turkey before being distributed to the rest of the continent.  The name of the bird became entwined with the shipping location, and the name has stuck ever since.

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