Preventing Conflicts With Turkeys
How Turkey Behavior Relates to "Nuisance Turkey" Problems
Wild turkeys are social birds. They live in flocks-sometimes rather large-which are organized by "pecking order". This pecking order is a social hierarchy or ranking in which each bird is dominant over or "pecks on" birds of lesser social status. Males and females each have their own pecking order, and same-sex flocks have their own internal pecking orders. All turkeys in the flock share the same area, but not the same privileges. For example, dominant males typically do all the breeding, with juvenile males rarely getting the opportunity.
Turkeys are not "territorial" and do not defend an area against other turkeys of the same sex. Territorial birds cannot discern individuals, but rather respond to certain visual cues. On the other hand, birds with a pecking order must recognize and remember specific individuals to know their place, and that of others, in the hierarchy. Thus, turkeys may "know" many others (as many as several hundred in Rio Grande turkeys) and must remember these individuals for several months.
Similarly, human-imprinted turkeys (those which have formed a indelible social and mental bond with humans upon birth) recognize and respond to people by both voice and appearance. The turkeys will also assign a sex to people, based upon the bird's perception of the human's behavior rather than their actual sex, and behave towards that person accordingly, for an indefinite period.
Young turkeys remain with their mother for a rather long period, up to 4 to 5 months, and female poults may remain even longer. This long association is undoubtedly an essential learning process. Turkeys also learn from each other, often by imitation, and, by associating with older more experienced birds, learn and remember the layout of their home ranges and the location of various food sources. So-called "game farm" or "pen-raised" turkeys lack these social experiences which are essential for normal adult behavior and successful survival in the wild.
All these behaviors have implications for perceived "nuisances". It is likely-although not conclusively demonstrated-that "wild" turkeys which have become habituated to people react to them as do human-imprinted birds. That is, these tame-acting birds appear to incorporate people, especially familiar individuals, into their pecking order and treat them accordingly. If they view someone as dominant, the turkeys will be deferent or fearful, while if the person is seen as subordinate he or she will be bullied. Humans perceived as males may be threatened or challenged by adult gobblers, especially in spring, or may be followed and called at by hens. Humans viewed as female may be displayed to or followed. The same person may be viewed as "male" by one turkey and "female" by another, confounding a response by the person who lacks an understanding of turkey behavior.
Wild turkeys are often believed to cause agricultural damage, by uprooting or feeding upon row crops such as corn, oats, alfalfa, or soybeans, or by eating or damaging fruits and berries, such as apples, grapes, or blueberries. In northern states, turkeys are also accused of consuming or soiling bunker sileage during winter.
In reality, much "turkey damage" is perceived, rather than real. Direct observations or video surveillance often show that other species cause all or most of the damage. Sightings of large flocks of turkeys sometimes produce the impression of damage when actually the birds are feeding on waste grain, insects, or other food items. A recent national survey of wildlife damage found that in 46% of field inspections animals other than turkeys were responsible 76-100% of the time, while in 18% of the instances the "other species" were responsible 50-75% of the time. Overall, 93% of confirmed turkey damage was assessed as "light". Nevertheless, damage may occasionally be severe in localized areas or in situations with deep snows and periodic winter food shortages.
PROTECT YOUR CROPS AND ORCHARDS:
The resurgence in turkey populations is a comparatively recent phenomenon and techniques to alleviate turkey damage are still being developed. Some of the ideas in use include:
Polypropylene bird netting is often used to create bird-proof enclosures
to protect vineyards, orchards, and similar agricultural situations.
Some types of ultraviolet-stabilized netting last up to 20 years.
Electronic bird repellers have been used successfully on some farms. Some models play recorded wild turkey distress calls, some play hawk calls, and others emit screeching sounds, or signals which interfere with the birds' ability to communicate with each other. Some models cover up to 3 acres per unit.
Predator kites flown from 20 ft. or higher poles have been effective in repelling turkeys from field crops. Some models are effective in covering about 2 acres per kite.
Scary windmills with flashing blades coated with ultraviolet-reflecting paint have been found to be effective in repelling turkeys, geese, and other species from vineyards, blueberry crops, and golf courses.
Aggressive dogs on long leashes are sometimes used effectively to chase turkeys away from bunker silos.
PROTECT YOUR HOME GARDENS
Polypropylene bird netting (available in ¾ in. and ½
in. mesh) is often used to protect fruit trees, berry bushes, shrubs,
and home gardens. Some types of ultraviolet-stabilized netting last
up to 20 years.
Reflective colorful "flash tape" can be attached to stakes, tree limbs, or trellises. The tape reflects sunlight and flutters and twinkles in the wind. Some brands have holographic images which flash dramatically.
Motion-activated scarecrows connected to water sprinklers have been used to repel dogs, raccoons, and large birds from gardens. One scarecrow covers an area up to 1000 square feet.
Aggressive dogs tethered on a long leash which slides back and forth on a cable can be effective in chasing turkeys away from gardens and other home situations.
Turkeys will recognize changes in their immediate surroundings. Once they are accustomed to an area, they may be frightened by changes in its appearance. When rocket-netting turkeys, biologists have found that the net's wire must be concealed in order not to alarm the birds. Rope, thick wire, or unusual objects placed in or around a garden may serve the same effect. These objects should be moved around frequently to obtain the best deterrent effect.
Wild turkeys are active in the daytime. They roost in trees at night to avoid ground predators. They usually select the largest trees available and often roost as high as possible. Roost sites may reflect topography-to allow turkeys easy access and a clear view-or weather conditions-to provide shelter from harsh weather. In suburban areas, where turkeys have become habituated to people, it is not uncommon for turkeys to roost on railings, roofs, or sometimes on vehicles.
Rows of "bird spikes" are often used to deter blackbirds,
gulls, or pigeons from roosting on the ridgetops of building and are
potentially effective in deterring turkeys from the same behavior.
"Jumping" bird training devices are sometimes placed on roofs or roosts to deter and train birds to roost elsewhere. When the roosting bird contacts the device, it "jumps" in the direction of the contact, frightening the bird.
Because wild turkeys have a "pecking order", they may respond aggressively to reflections or images of turkeys. Turkeys are probably not self-aware and do not recognize their own image, so will respond to a reflection as they would an intruding turkey. Human-habituated wild turkeys have been known to peck at windows, automobile mirrors, or reflections in shiny surfaces (such as polished car doors). Since the stimulus to drive away or subjugate the "intruder" is a strong one, and since the reflection does not disappear or cower when the turkey confronts it, the bird will often continually display towards or attack the reflection until changing light conditions cause it to vanish. The turkey will often remember the "intruder" and return to the same spot and continue the behavior even if repeatedly chased off.
The reflectivity of the window, vehicle, or other shiny object must
be changed or covered up in some fashion in order to stop the turkey
from pecking at it.
Aggressive dogs on a long leash can be effective in keeping turkeys away from a particular spot. In fenced areas, such as some parking lots, dogs may be allowed to roam free and chase away turkeys at will.
Remember that wild turkeys have a "pecking order" and that habituated birds may respond to you as they do to another turkey. The best defense against aggressive or persistent turkeys is to prevent the birds from becoming habituated in the first place by being bold to them. Everyone in the neighborhood must do the same; it will be ineffective if you do so only on your property. Each and every turkey must view all humans as dominant in the pecking order and respond to them as superiors rather than subjects. Habituated turkeys may attempt to dominate or attack people that the birds view as subordinates. "
Adult humans may drive off or deter these aggressive birds with bold action by forcefully fending them off with brooms or other non-injurious implements. However, the turkey may then recognize that individual as dominant but continue to respond to other people as subordinates.
Turkeys which repeatedly challenge or attack children or elderly persons
or otherwise threaten public safety may ultimately have to be destroyed.
Keep turkeys wild to avoid these consequences.
It is rarely an option to trap and relocate "nuisance" turkeys. The methods used to trap turkeys in remote areas are often impractical or ineffective in urban or suburban areas due to safety or disturbance. Released turkeys may also continue their inappropriate actions where they are released or may move substantial distances to other suburban sites.
Some wild turkeys, especially in spring and early summer, choose to stand, walk, or pace back-and-forth in the center of busy highways, dodging vehicles and blocking traffic. Some (but not all) of these birds are juvenile males and often do not strut or display. The reasons for this peculiar behavior are unknown.
"Highway" turkeys are not easily dispersed, if at all. If a hazardous situation exists, and the birds do not soon disperse on their own, they may have to be forcibly removed.
- DO NOT FEED WILD TURKEYS--Keep the wild in wildlife! Never deliberately feed wild turkeys to attract them to your property or to keep them around. Turkeys can survive very well on natural foods and do not need handouts from people. Turkeys which become accustomed to humans and human-associated foods are likely to lose their fear of people and cause problems. The birds are then placed in jeopardy when you or your neighbors become afraid of them or seek to stop any damage they may cause. For more information, click for the FAQ section.
- REMOVE OR SECURE ALL POTENTIAL SOURCES OF FOOD.--Don't tempt or attract wild turkeys by allowing them to feed on seeds which have spilled from your bird feeders. If these seeds are accessible to turkeys, they will readily feed upon them. This food source will have the same effect as if you deliberately fed them. Clean up spilled bird seed each day. Excess seed will attract other animals, which sometimes become a nuisance. Turkeys and other animals feeding on the seed may excrete in the seed pile and spread disease to others.
- DO NOT ALLOW TURKEYS TO BECOME HABITUATED TO PEOPLE--Wild turkeys which become conditioned to human foods, and habituated to people, are likely to cause damage or to attempt to dominate people. Once this behavior is established, it can be very difficult or impossible to change. Be sure to be bold around turkeys-especially when they first show up in an area-and encourage others in the neighborhood to do the same.
- DO NOT PROPAGATE "GAME-FARM" TURKEYS--Possession, propagation,
importation, sale, purchase or release of "game-farm" wild
turkeys is unlawful in Massachusetts (and most other states). Prevent
domestic turkeys from mingling and breeding with wild birds. Free-ranging
hybrids between wild turkeys and domestic birds often become nuisances.