5/30 Grow it and they will come

image: Craig F. Walker

This is not my picture, but I was this close to a wild turkey today. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, since she burst out of the trailside undergrowth and confronted me. Apparently I had once again come too close to her chicks – if indeed this is the same momma turkey whose nest I stumbled upon two weeks ago, and who I startled with her chicks in a heavy rain last week. She had every right to be upset with me for the repeated disturbances, and it showed. Unnerved by her flapping and clucking and the look in her beady eye, I backed up but did not flee. She slowly retreated up the hill, and positioned herself atop a tall stump where she could see my every move.

But is it the same turkey I saw each time, or are there two or three? And what about Tom turkey, who has been spotted near the Nature Center and heard gobbling in the woods? How on earth did large ground birds that can only fly 100 yards at a time make their separate ways to a tiny urban forest fragment, and then find each other as well?

So many questions, and no answers. Except this – urban turkeys are a thing. From New England to Texas, Minnesota to California, in big cities and suburbs, wild turkeys have returned. And unlike elusive rural turkeys, these city cousins don’t remember being hunted and aren’t especially fearful of  humans.


Urban and suburban turkey populations are not monitored by wildlife agencies like the rural ones. Since they’re mostly unavailable for hunting, when they come into conflict with humans they’re simply referred to as “nuisance birds”. And their numbers are growing.

Will the turkeys in this forest thrive, but slip into the same uneasy urban niche as deer and coyotes? Would you be glad to see them in your neighborhood, even if they were fearless? It’s certainly too soon to know how things will turn out, and possibly the abundant predators will make a speedy end to this new experiment. (Very few poults survive to adulthood).


But I’m rooting for the turkeys, and I think it’s no coincidence they are here. Everything we’ve done over the past ten years in this forest has improved the potential wild turkey habitat – from removing invasive species, to planting native grasses, trees and shrubs, to simply encouraging a rich, diverse herbaceous layer for good protective cover. Such a revived habitat can provide the high protein diet of snails, insects and reptiles that young poults need. Mulberries, blackberries, wild cherries and other forest fruits, as well as the seeds of native grasses, offer a rounded menu for mature turkeys. We might as well have rolled out the welcome mat!

wild turkey habitat at Beargrass Creek SNP

Far from being dumb clucks, wild turkeys are smart, adaptable, opportunistic generalists who can survive and thrive when conditions are good. In this little urban forest they may be here to stay.

























12 thoughts on “5/30 Grow it and they will come

    1. oneforestfragment

      Well, some people believe they were (native, that is) but our paleolithic ancestors helped extirpate them long ago. http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/turkey-in-CA.html. There was also a small population of Meleagris californica, the Californian turkey, that resulted from isolated populations of wild turkeys in the southern coastal area.
      But you are right, the reintroduced ones are doing overly well, as a result of the changes we have brought to the landscape – making it turkey paradise. No niche will go unfilled!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. tonytomeo

        The Monterey pine was once endemic to a larger range than it has now, but the range fluctuates naturally. Monterey pine now lives in only three isolated colonies, and perhaps a fourth small unconfirmed colony in a remote region of Mexico. Now, some environmentalists want it to be exterminated from where it has naturalized a bit farther north in San Mateo County from the northernmost colony. I sort of get their point, but I also think that such migration is not that far from what could have happened naturally. Massive and mature Monterey cypress have already been removed from McNee Ranch State Park in Montara because they are beyond their natural range, which is limited to a small region on the Monterey Peninsula. Again, I know that they are not technically native there, but I happen to know those trees, and I know that even after a century, they were not proliferating in a manner that was detrimental to the ecosystem. To me, it seems like it would be MUCH more important to exterminate the voraciously invasive blue gum eucalyptus, pampas grass, various brooms and various acacias. Yet, they all remain!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. blissgrey

        That’s sad that a tree that is centuries old is destroyed. It seems the tree itself would have been an small ecosystem for the living things living in and under it.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. tonytomeo

        Actually, it really makes me angry. With all the trees that should have been removed, they took those, that had been so picturesque long before my time. I like the blue gum eucalyptus too, but I can understand why they should be removed. These so-called ‘environmentalists’ really need to consult with those of us who actually know something of the ecosystem.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. oneforestfragment

        Strange policies abound! I have never heard of removing a plant species just because it was a little bit beyond its native range. With the climate changing, all sorts of species, including us, may need to migrate beyond areas that are now considered “natural range”.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. blissgrey

    My yard is a purposeful mess. I have birds at my feeders, daily visitors, and migratory guests. I play host to some exciting urban wildlife, a Ground Hog with a young one in tow, occasionally my favorite, an Opossum. A long while back, a Raccoon. Then there are the Blue Tailed Skinks, Rabbits, Squirrels, beautiful Orb Weavers in the fall at the front door scaring the UPS delivery guy, a Coopers Hawk feasting on my defunct picnic table, poor Mourning Dove, a frog splashing around the area of my sump pump drain pipe. I doubt my messy little habitat would support urban Turkeys, but it would be a thrill to see them in my area, simply for the feeling that where there is wildlife, there is at least some sort of health in my environment. I live near Rubbertown, and in the floodplain, so I am painfully aware of how we have destroyed more than our share of native flora and fauna.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Catherine A Ogburn

        It’s so fun to read your blog. I love reading about your first hand encounters with the creatures you come across in the woods.

        Liked by 1 person

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