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Thursday, July 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Let urban turkeys know who’s boss

Today is Thanksgiving Day, so I hope everyone is getting ready for a good meal and time with family and friends. For me Thanksgiving doesn’t seem to have the same hurry-scurry that Christmas does. It’s a day to be taken slowly.

For most of us, turkey is the cornerstone of the feast. Over the past few years, I have made a point of buying a heritage turkey from one of our local farmers and we have enjoyed some of the best eating ever. However, before there were turkeys with timers and heritage turkeys, our ancestors harvested wild turkey to grace their tables. So much so that wild turkeys nearly disappeared from the American landscape between the late 1800s and the 1930s.

When wildlife specialists realized that the turkey was an important part of the ecosystem, they began reintroducing them into their former ranges and beyond. Hence, they were introduced into Washington beginning in the 1960s. Fifty years later they are quite common in rural northeast Washington. They have also adapted themselves quite comfortably to urban areas like Spokane’s South Hill and the Spokane Valley, where they sometimes are giant pests.

Wild turkeys are active in the day and roost in trees at night. During the day they forage in flocks for insects, seeds, grubs and the occasional lizard. They nest on the ground in brushy areas and the newly hatched poults are quick to start foraging on their own. They breed in the spring with the males putting on a show to attract the females. The show often involves sparring, noisy calling and displays of aggressive behavior. During the summer the flocks divide into groups of females and chicks, yearling males called jakes and adult toms.

In rural areas, turkeys aren’t usually too much of a problem. They come and go through pastures, forests and home sites with a wariness for humans. In urban areas, it’s a different story. They are around humans so much that over time the birds become used to people and see us as another competitor in the environment. They feel comfortable challenging us if we get in their way or don’t provide the food they are used to expecting. Here are a few suggestions from wildlife experts for dealing with urban turkeys.

Don’t feed turkeys, directly or indirectly. Keep areas under bird feeders clear of uneaten seed and clean up seed spills. If the birds get aggressive, remove all feeders and other sources of food as well as water sources to force them to disperse. Start harassing them every time they show up until they figure out that you are the dominant force in the area. Don’t let them intimidate you; push back with a shove from a broom, a blast from the hose or loud noises. Tethered barking dogs can be useful in the effort. To really get them to move out of the neighborhood, it will mean all your neighbors will have to also harass them every time they show up. Let me know what has worked – or not – for you.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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