When Wild Turkeys Take Over The cemetery in the quiet college town of Davis, Calif., has been invaded by wild turkeys. The birds are harassing mourners, chasing bicyclists and eating flowers. Cemetery managers are experimenting with techniques to get rid of them.
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When Wild Turkeys Take Over

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When Wild Turkeys Take Over

When Wild Turkeys Take Over

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

Perhaps in anticipation of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday feast, some turkeys in California are getting a bit feisty.

Reporter Tamara Keith of member station KQED tells a story from the college town of Davis.

TAMARA KEITH: These aren't your typical butterball birds, so heavy under the weight of their own breast that they risk toppling over. These roving pack of 35 or 40 birds are sleek, standing up to three feet tall with brown feathers, and they don't seem to be afraid of people. It was about a year and a half ago that they first showed up at the cemetery.

Ms. SUSAN FINKLEMAN (Office Manager, Davis Cemetery District): And I looked and looked and thought, what are these? Are these pheasants?

KEITH: Susan Finkleman is the cemetery's office manager.

Ms. FINKLEMAN: And then I realized they were wild turkeys. And I have never seen wild turkeys before. At that point I thought they were quite charming.

KEITH: How do you feel about them now?

Ms. FINKLEMAN: Less charmed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEITH: That's because the male turkeys in this gang are aggressive, a rarity for wild turkeys. It appears these birds have been fed, tamed, taught not to fear people. They have harassed and chased visitors and apparently have some strange issues with bicycles.

Ms. FINKLEMAN: And the turkeys will see, just these three males, will see a bike and give chase, and the one turkey's beak is maybe six inches behind your foot as you're pedaling along, so that can be a little intimidating too.

KEITH: Not good in a town ranked the nation's most bike-friendly city. And the Davis Cemetery isn't the only place experiencing a turkey invasion.

State wildlife officials estimate there are more than 200,000 of the wild birds around California, originally brought here for hunting a century ago.

Most live in wooded wildlands, but some seem to prefer not so wild habitat. Places like yards, golf courses and vineyards.

A U.C. Davis research team is trying to develop ways to keep wild turkeys out of vineyards. Paul Garensol(ph) says they are experimenting with turkey alert calls.

Mr. PAUL GARENSOL (UC Davis): When we spot turkeys - and they're fairly easy to find - we actually play our turkey calls on a beefed up iPod and see how they respond. So hopefully we can find one that's going to work and use that in vineyards.

KEITH: This alarm call has been the most effective so far. Half of the time it caused the turkeys to leave the area, but very slowly. The other half of the time the birds took note of the alert and then went right back to eating. When the researchers played the sounds at the Davis Cemetery, the turkeys were undeterred.

This day the Davis Cemetery turkeys are pecking around, eating up some freshly-planted grass seed. Cemetery managers recently brought in an expert trapper to remove the birds to a wild open area far, far away. But...

Ms. FINKLEMAN: They aren't gone because the trapper was unable to entice them into the trap.

KEITH: Susan Finkleman says the trapper has given up. The plan was to lay out feed for the turkeys, gather them in one area, and drop a net. But the turkeys simply weren't interested; perhaps their pallets were too refined.

Ms. FINKLEMAN: The cemetery itself is kind of like a smorgasbord for the birds because they love the begonias and the fresh grass seed and other things which we're certainly not putting out for their benefit but they seem to think we are.

KEITH: Finkleman is now searching for another option to rid the cemetery of these wild, mean turkeys. Plenty of people have called offering to take one home for Thanksgiving, but hunting among headstones isn't exactly illegal or safe.

For NPR News, I'm Tamara Keith in Davis, California.

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