The City of Davis has recently begun stepping up efforts to raise awareness about the hazardous effects of residents feeding the local wild turkey population.
The turkeys were first noticed in 2006, when about six male turkeys began frequenting the Davis Cemetery. Six years later, the turkey population has increased dramatically and has become concentrated in the Davis neighborhoods Covell Park and Rancho Yolo, around the North Davis Greenbelt.
“Animals need various elements to support reproduction: food, cover and water. These turkeys are finding all of these here,” said City of Davis wildlife resource specialist John McNerney. “In the urban setting, there is an absence of significant predation, and when combined with feeding in a concentrated area, the population increase is amplified. It [feeding] increases the impact.”
The primary danger of feeding wild turkeys is not simply an increase in the number of turkeys around Davis, but an increase in turkeys behaving aggressively towards people.
“Naturally, turkeys are fearful of predators, but when they lose that natural fear they become more aggressive, especially in the mating season when male turkeys have higher levels of testosterone,” McNerney said. “Those are the animals which we begin to be concerned with.”
In 2006, the original turkeys around the cemetery did begin exhibiting aggressive behavior, leading the city to undertake trapping efforts.
“It was successful, but we confirmed that turkeys are difficult to trap. It takes a couple weeks so it is very labor intensive. They are very smart animals and they remember it for many years, surprisingly, so females will tell their young not to go into the traps,” McNerney said. “Trapping is not a good solution.”
Residents may be unsure as to how to react if approached by an aggressive turkey.
“The proper response would be negative reinforcement — yelling loudly, spraying it with water or hitting it with a broom. Don’t let the turkey be the dominant organism,” McNerney said. “The danger is when people try to run away — they may trip or run out into traffic trying to avoid them, or if they’re on a bicycle they may swerve into traffic.”
Beyond Davis, students have had threatening experiences with aggressive wild turkeys.
“I was hiking when I was eight and we stopped for a snack when a large group of wild turkeys came up and tried to steal our food,” said Amber Yao, a second-year communication and economics double major. “They were almost the same size as we were, so we ran away. It was actually pretty scary.”
Not all Davis residents have had negative experiences with local turkeys.
“When they first came five or six years ago, everyone was excited, especially the kids. Some people think they’re a nuisance, but other people are charmed by it. The most common complaint seems to be the poop,” said a resident in the Covell Park neighborhood.
The resident also commented on the possibility of people feeding the turkeys.
“Over the years there have been local campaigns about not feeding wildlife, like the ducks in the Arboretum. It’s very important not to feed wildlife,” the resident said. “I’ve never seen people feeding them around here.”
The City of Davis, however, wants to make the gravity of the feeding problem known before it gets too out of hand.
“We’ve stepped up our efforts to target the communities. The North Davis population has become more of an issue,” McNerney said. “We’re using local media like the Davis Enterprise, and a type of social media called Nextdoor. We’d like to see more households participate.”
These efforts are not just limited to social media. Other points of outreach are being used to raise awareness about the importance of not feeding the turkeys. If the feeding continues, the turkey population will more likely exhibit aggressive behavior, in which case the city may have to resort to trapping.
“We staff tables at local events like the Farmers Market and various public venues to hand out pamphlets,” McNerney said. “It’s important just to get out there and talk to people about the turkeys.”
MEREDITH STURMER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.