Easter eggs won’t be the only unhatched fowl to be hunted this season on Spokane’s South Hill.
Responding to years of complaints, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is trying to rev up similar enthusiasm for finding the eggs of wild turkeys that are flourishing in several neighborhoods.
Candace Bennett, the agency’s wildlife conflict specialist for Spokane County, said about 250 turkeys in four main South Hill flocks are heading into the mating season.
The Cliff-Cannon and Rockwood neighborhoods will have even more problems with scratched out gardens and jumbo-shrimp-sized droppings if a high percentage of those turkey hens successfully nests, Bennett said.
Many people enjoy the 8- to 20-pound birds as they stroll through yards and down streets. A few people put out feed for the birds against the advice of the wildlife biologist and to the angst of some neighbors.
However, the charm of turkeys in the ’hood can fade quickly. The big birds’ powerful legs are destructive to some gardens and landscaping as they scratch for food
They’re especially annoying in the yards where they choose to roost.
“Many of them will fly up into a single pine tree night after night and create a huge mess below,” Bennett said.
They are especially noisy in spring, when toms begin gobbling each morning at first light, even while still perched in their roost tree.
Bennett hopes to enlist teams of volunteers to watch hens as they feed in the mornings through April and May and follow them to find their nests.
Volunteers will be instructed on how to addle new eggs – coating the eggs with corn oil that prevents the embryo from developing.
Addling is a wildlife management method of population control especially useful for nuisance ground-nesting birds such as Canada geese and wild turkeys.
If eggs are simply destroyed or removed from a nest, a hen is likely to quickly breed and nest again. Addled eggs are more likely to keep the hen’s attention through the nesting season.
Bennett held a meeting on the South Hill last year but enlisted only a few volunteers. They failed to find and treat any nests.
As the numbers of complaints have continued to increase, Bennett has expanded her effort for this season. City of Spokane officials balked at cooperating with controlling turkeys last year, she said. But she’s found solid support from the City Parks Board for treating eggs this spring.
Volunteers will still need permission to go on to private property.
Few other viable methods of controlling wild turkeys are available to Bennett in the city limits. The spring gobbler hunting season opens in April, but turkeys can’t be legally hunted in town.
Turkeys avoid most natural predators in the city, although Bennett is concerned they might attract more coyotes into neighborhoods.
The agency responded with a net-pen trap this winter to help one Cannon Hill homeowner who was having significant issues with roosting turkeys.
But wild turkeys in city neighborhoods are notoriously difficult to catch in traps, especially without bitter cold weather to make the bait more enticing.
The turkeys are wary of entering traps lured by decoys and even for bait, which is consumed mostly by squirrels.
“Rather than using the open door, the squirrels chew holes in the net to get in and out, so the pen needs constant mending,” Bennett said.
In some cases, traps have been vandalized after being set up to catch turkeys, she said.
After weeks of effort, only 12 turkeys were captured in January and February.
“That didn’t make a dent in the number of birds on the Hill,” Bennett said.
Because some neighbors had insisted the birds not be killed, she chose to transport them 180 miles round trip for release on the agency’s Sherman Creek Wildlife Area west of Kettle Falls.
“It was a very labor- and time-intensive effort, considering the trapping and driving the birds to the wildlife area,” she said.
“We had proposed euthanizing the turkeys and donating the meat to the Union Gospel Mission, but there was opposition to any sort of lethal control.
“And we can’t just release turkeys anywhere,” she said, noting that other land agencies require permits and few private landowners with turkey habitat want more turkeys.
Wild turkeys are not native to Washington. Unsuccessful introduction efforts that started in the early 1900s got more serious in the 1960s with releases of wild-trapped birds from Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming to limited areas of Eastern Washington.
The Fish and Wildlife Department teamed with the the National Wild Turkey Federation for an aggressive introduction program in the mid-1980s. Turkeys and turkey hunting has flourished.
But even in farm and ranch country where hunting is allowed, turkey can become so numerous and concentrated they’re a burden, especially to operators who feed livestock during winter.
Some Spokane homeowners being menaced by roosting turkeys have tried different deterrents with varying success, Bennett said.
“Stringing ribbons of Mylar tape around gardens and flower plots can help,” she said.
“One family had success in using a spotlight to deter roosting that was causing a huge mess in their backyard. When they saw the turkeys fly up into the big pine tree, they would go out and shine a spotlight on them until they flew away.
“That seemed to work for them. Of course, it simply moved the problem to someone else’s yard.”
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