Take a walk and you might come across a flock of wild turkeys. You might see them peering through downtown store windows, using crosswalks to navigate traffic, or through neighborhoods, pecking at insects and strutting their beautiful plumage for everyone to see.
Lebanese resident Jill Chapman has a herd in her neighborhood. For the past two years, she has watched them move around the neighborhood near Cascades school, eating apples, grapes and berries. Two males of the herd perch in massive pines in front of his house. The rest are sheltered behind a nearby barn.
“This is where they grew up; they’ve had a lot of babies this year, ”Chapman said. “They’re here prancing every morning; they are a lot of fun.
Turkeys can be mean, however. Some of the cats on the street have learned that these birds don’t want to be anyone’s dinner. Chapman said that a kitten, affectionately known as “Slappy” because he pretends to want attention and then slaps your hand, received a hard lesson from the two big toms.
“They got angry, chased him around a car – four circles in a row,” she said. “Eventually the cat got smart enough to hide under the car, and it was there for probably five hours, even after the turkeys left.”
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Chapman said the turkeys give the region a character of its own. Herds in Lebanon are stars in their own right, with a Facebook page, Where in the world are the wild turkeys in Lebanon, Oregon, on which we share photos and videos, sometimes daily, of the turkeys of the city in parade.
Lebanon’s mayor Paul Aziz said turkeys are certainly famous, noting that the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce produced a bumper sticker that reads, “I brake for turkeys.” He said turkeys can be spotted all over town and people are enjoying them.
Perhaps one of the best examples of Lebanon’s love for its feathered inhabitants was the Unusual turkey historical re-enactment, last held in 2019. Turkish decoys were displayed in the city, adorned with costumes, lights, music and more. A new form of downtown sculpture project – sorry, no turkeys – is coming summer 2022.
Turkeys are not only in Lebanon. You can see the birds in many urban and rural locations in Linn and Benton counties.
Albany City Councilor Marilyn Smith knows of a few flocks of wild turkeys among the city’s non-voting voters. She said people hate them or love them. People will call the town hall to find out how to get rid of it.
“They’re blocking traffic. I must have stopped half a dozen blocking two lanes of Pacific Boulevard near the Y one morning a few years ago, ”Smith said in an email. “They peck at the shiny mirrors, the chrome, the paint (mating behavior). They chase bikes, perch on cars, tread lawns and gardens.
Corvallis resident Karyle Butcher lives in Skyline West, the northwestern tip of town where turkeys are often seen. Citing an OSU research paper, she said it was ironic that wild turkeys were introduced to Oregon to provide hunting opportunities, among other benefits.
“Now of course a lot of turkeys have moved into town and seem to be leading very sheltered lives, so clearly good decision making on their part,” Butcher said. She added that the birds are “seriously annoying but also quite spectacular when they are in the air”.
It is difficult to say when sightings of turkeys in urban areas became typical. District Wildlife Biologist Greg Reed, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the issue of city turkeys has been growing since the 2000s. He said it usually starts with a small flock that people generally like to see.
“It’s only when populations grow stronger and become residents of the city that we start to receive regular complaints,” Reed said. “Most of the time, there is someone who feeds the turkeys near the complaints.”
However, when turkeys congregate in urban areas, especially in large flocks, they can be problematic. Fish and Wildlife receives complaints of aggressive and loud toms, damage to landscaping and gardens, and damage left in place. Birds often grow abnormally large because people feed them both intentionally and unintentionally.
ODFW worked with several local municipalities, including Corvallis, Dallas, Lebanon and Philomath, to pass ordinances aimed at preventing turkey feeding. Reed said these orders, when implemented, are a good step to alleviate some of the turkey’s anger.
Turkeys aren’t picky about habitats, able to exist on a variety of land types, according to ODFW. Their optimal habitat is a mix of open spaces for foraging and showing during the breeding season, as well as denser cover for nesting and fleeing predators, as well as wooded areas for roosting.
Mid-valley turkeys are associated with agricultural areas adjacent to forests. They especially like oak savannas and forests, as acorns are an abundant food source, according to Fish and Wildlife. They are increasingly frequenting rural and suburban areas, possibly due to complementary feeding and lower risk of predation.
At night, almost all turkeys, except those less than 2 weeks old, fly in trees to roost away from predators, according to ODFW. They roost in a variety of tree species, including conifers and deciduous trees, mostly in more mature stands. Most roosting takes place outside of town, but some resident herds will roost within town limits.
When turkeys are reported to ODFW, there may be a number of different responses. The first step is usually education and advice on what attracts birds and how to prevent / eliminate this. Hazing, which is legal with a free permit, is often a possible solution.
Hazing can be done with noise to scare turkeys, pipes or sprinklers to deter them from going, or using lasers to scramble them out of perch trees, according to Fish and Wildlife. If the problems occur outside of town, people can use propane cannons or other loud noises to scare them away.
According to ODFW, wild turkeys are not native to the state. They were first introduced in 1961. Since then, more than 10,000 turkeys have been transplanted across Oregon. They come in two subspecies – Merriam and Rio Grande – and are found in almost all counties.
The number of turkeys declined significantly as the birds were overexploited after the colonization of the United States. By the 20th century, half of the states that once had turkeys no longer had wild stocks, according to ODFW, although the last few decades have seen a turnaround in wild turkey populations.
History of wild turkeys in Oregon
Oregon’s experience with turkeys dates back to 1899, when individuals made releases in southern Oregon. None of the early attempts succeeded in establishing sustainable populations. The turkeys either died or were domesticated. Success has come from trapping wild birds alive and quickly releasing them to the right habitats.
In 1961, wild-caught Merriam stock was obtained from Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico and released in three locations in Oregon: the White River Game Management Area in Wasco County. ; Garrison Butte in Jefferson County and the Wenaha Game Management Area in Wallowa County. The program has been expanded over the years with more birds imported and additional release sites.
A significant milestone was reached with the first release of turkeys from the Rio Grande in 1975. The birds were received from California and released in the foothills east of Medford. California got the initial stock from Texas in 1968. Having proven adaptable across Oregon, the Rio Grande has been in storage since the mid-1980s.
ODFW reports indicate that wild turkey populations have increased in concert with human influence on the landscape over the past 20 years. Their density has increased, especially in the Blue Mountains and the Willamette Valley. Growing herds are faced with expanding development, leading to an increase in nuisance complaints from landowners.
In most cases, complaints of nuisance or damage to turkeys near populated areas are caused by the presence of additional feed, according to the ODFW.
A 2013 study funded by the agency and Oregon State University examined the eating habits of turkeys and the possible impacts of turkey foraging on native plants and wildlife. No evidence was found of significant competition between wild turkeys and other wildlife, or that turkeys negatively impact plant populations.
Cody Mann covers the cities of Albany and Lebanon. He can be contacted at 541-812-6113 or [email protected]
“They’re here prancing every morning; they are a lot of fun. ~ Jill Chapman, Lebanon