Not so wild turkeys turning heads in downtown S.H.

Those turkeys running around town, stopping traffic and pedestrians, are most likely wild and should be headed back up into the hills soon as mating season begins.

In recent years, turkeys have wandered into Sweet Home around Thanksgiving but seemed to leave after only a few weeks. This year, they’ve hung around and are still wandering downtown Sweet Home.

“The turkey range has increased dramatically in the last 10 years in Oregon,” Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Tom Murtagh said. The turkeys aren’t native to Oregon, but several programs to introduce them have been successful in the last half the century.

The first attempt to introduce turkeys to Oregon was in 1899 by citizens. The first attempt to reach any success was during the 1960s when ODF&W introduced Merriam’s turkeys, from Arizona and New Mexico.

In the 1920s and 1930s, attempts were made to raise wild turkeys from farm stocks. They were too domesticated to take hold in the wild.

ODF&W found its best success with Rio Grande turkeys out of Texas. The turkeys are more likely to re-nest after losing a nest, which happens frequently.

The first Rio Grande introductions were in the Medford and Roseburg areas. They also had early populations in North Central Oregon near White River and Warm Springs. Populations caught on quickly there. Other introductions expanded populations throughout the state, and a hybrid between the Merriam’s and Rio Grande subspecies is also common.

Historically, the turkey is native to 39 states. Populations dwindled by the beginning of the 20th century as a result of over-hunting. Efforts began to expand the bird populations. Now, turkeys live in all states but Alaska.

That the six turkeys running around Sweet Home fear little, from joggers to large trucks, is typical of the birds.

“They get used to the human environment, especially when they’ve been fed,” Murtagh said. People all over love the turkeys that wander into their cities. The birds frequently wander into cities, usually rural. There are flocks in Lebanon, Dallas, Monmouth and others.

ODF&W hasn’t received many complaints about the turkeys over the years, Murtagh said. Dallas, on the other hand, with 20 to 30 birds wandering its streets has netted the agency a lot more.

Dallas has a different demographic, Murtagh said. Sweet Home has a strong hunting ethic and “people are more likely to just watch the turkeys.”

The turkeys wander into towns when they leave their summer ranges at higher altitudes. In the spring, or as early as February, the birds will leave for those ranges and mating season begins. Hens will start laying eggs by April. The eggs hatch in about six weeks.

The chicks stay with their mothers throughout the summer and will be good-sized by winter.

“These (young) birds are like teenagers, rambunctious,” Murtagh said.

The problems that humans have with the turkeys usually comes as the turkeys perch on vehicles or scratch in landscaping for nuts, seeds and insects.

A couple of years ago, Sweet Home did generate some calls about the turkeys, Murtagh said. Usually the problems are with senior citizens.

“These are big birds,” Murtagh said. “If they’re adapted to humans, they’re pretty brash.”

He related the story of an older woman who tried to shoo them away, but they wouldn’t go, and even moved toward her instead. Others aren’t as nervous and can run at them and shoo them off.

Property owners can take steps to keep the turkeys from bothering their landscaping.

“If they’re getting a constant visiting by the birds, they ought to think about why they’re attracted,” Murtagh said. Usually, it’s food source, birdseed or the things that attract other birds and squirrels. Cleaning up those attractions

ODF&W is willing to come out and talk about alternatives for persons who are in a flock’s forage route. The agency can issue “haze” permits, which can be used to drive off the turkeys. When the birds are causing damage, ODF&W can also issue kill permits, but those are tricky inside city limits where gunfire is usually illegal.

“It’s considered a game bird,” Murtagh said. “So it’s given a high level of protection in a lot of ways. Enjoy them for what they are. They’re beautiful game birds.”

Persons who have concerns or looking for more information can call he ODF&W at Adair Village at (541) xxx-xxxx, Salem at (503) xxx-xxxx or Eugene-Springfield (541) 726-3515.

Starting last year, Oregon has had two turkey hunting seasons, spring and fall. Spring season starts on April 15 and ends on May 31. Daily bag limit is one male turkey or one with a visible beard. Season limit is two legal turkeys with an additional legal turkey for hunters with a bonus turkey tag. The entire state is open except the Snake River Islands. The bonus tag is limited to Douglas, Coos, Curry and Josephine counties and a portion of Jackson County.