Charm Gone, Town Kicks Out Free-Ranging Turkeys

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Wild turkeys cross a street in La Conner, Washington

Wild turkeys cross a street in La Conner, Wash., where the birds have called home since 2004. La Conner's town council recently voted to remove the flock due to sanitation concerns. Marilyn Dunstan/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Marilyn Dunstan/Getty Images

La Conner, Wash., on the Puget Sound, has a turkey problem.

A pair of wild turkeys strutted into the small town six years ago and multiplied. The flock wanders between the Catholic church and City Hall. But now, some in town have lost their taste for these turkeys, and the town council says the birds have to go.

'Like Helicopters Taking Off'

When the first tom turkey and hen showed up in the spring of 2004, they became instant celebrities.

Lynn Moore remembers the day they crossed the street and settled in her yard. "They would sit together on the back of the house and groom each other," Moore says. "You could tell they were just a happy pair."

Soon there were chicks. Moore and her husband, Bud, kept a record of each birth and death. The proud turkey pair produced 15 children and grandchildren.

Bud Moore, a retired Air Force pilot, loves watching the 20-pound birds struggle to take flight.

"They sound to me like helicopters taking off," he says. "I spent a little time in Vietnam, and it always gave me a little chuckle to hear that sound."

Overstaying Their Welcome

To the delight of the La Conner Chamber of Commerce, the turkeys attracted tourists. The town council banned hunting, and the mayor declared the turkeys the official town birds.

In the mating season, the toms puff up their feathers, fan their tails and stop traffic. They also fight, and that's where the trouble began.

"If there were wild pigs running loose in town, tearing up everybody's garden and digging big holes, we would have had a barbecue the first weekend,"  resident Sue Perry says.

She says the turkeys tear up her rhododendrons and have already destroyed a rock wall. Perry also says the birds leave behind large, "tarry splops."

"It's wonderful to invite guests for dinner and they get out of the car and step in it," Perry says.

An Early Retirement

La Conner's new mayor started to worry about sanitation. This summer the town council voted to remove the flock and put Bill Stokes in charge of catching the birds.

Stokes built a trap out of a blue fishing net, used grain as bait, and set it up underneath the fir trees where the turkeys roost. If a turkey wanders into the trap, Stokes pulls a cord and closes the net.

"You got to be here right at sunrise. That's when they come out of the trees, as soon as it gets light," says Stokes, who has caught several birds so far.

The La Conner turkeys are still under the mayor's protection and won't end up on anyone's Thanksgiving table. They are being sent into early retirement on a Christmas tree farm a few hours away.

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