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Birds on a wire

A flock of wild turkeys that has pecked and pooped its way to a special status as an urban menace in old east Medford over the decades is now quite literally adding a new arc to its story.

Wild turkeys clumsily flying into Pacific Power lines have been responsible for four morning outages in the past month, each time knocking out electricity to more than 1,600 residents and businesses while surviving the shock of a lifetime.

The darkened areas have included the Ashland Avenue and East Main Street neighborhood, Medford Center businesses such as Tinseltown and Sears, and smaller businesses along East Main Street.

The outages, which have happened when the aerial butterballs leave their roosts in large trees for their morning curbside forage, have been silencing alarm clocks and coffee makers for up to 50 minutes each time.

"It's definitely attributed to the turkeys," Pacific Power spokesman Monte Mendenhall says. "We don't have a good idea how we are going to solve this problem."

State wildlife biologists say the outages are a new twist to an old problem of people feeding turkeys well enough to establish urban flocks that are incredibly difficult to evict from neighborhoods.

Unlike rural areas, where in-season hunters can shrink or disperse the flocks, urban victims of wildlife flying amok have few tools at their disposal.

It's illegal to shoot or hunt in city limits, and trapping the birds is considered difficult and could take months without any guaranteed success.

Mark Vargas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District wildlife biologist, says he's been offering irritated landowners hazing permits to defend their gardens and rooftops by chasing trespassing birds or spraying them with a hose.

Residents may also hire a licensed trapper to capture the turkeys, kill them and donate the carcasses to charity, Vargas says.

In this old neighborhood with well established trees, residents will be hard-pressed to eliminate this urban dilemma that dates back at least a quarter-century to when the first turkeys discovered at least some neighbors were willing to feed them.

"You can't just go cut down roost trees on people's properties," Vargas says.

"It's a difficult situation, and it's something we deal with constantly," Vargas says. "If we can only get people to recognize that feeding them always causes the problem."

The turkey-tied outages occurred Nov. 4, 7, 29 and Dec. 4, Pacific Power records show.

In most cases, the birds flew into the wires, disturbing them so they came into contact with each other and triggered the outage, Mendenhall says.

"In one case they actually got the wire down," Mendenhall says. "They're pretty big birds."

Pacific Power officials plan to meet in-house today to figure out whether there is at least a partial mechanical solution, such as separating the lines more to reduce the likelihood of turkeys knocking them together.

Mendenhall says he's also notified the city of Medford about the ongoing conflicts, and he thinks the agencies need to put their collective craniums together for something better than tugging on the wishbone and hoping for the best.

"The three of us are going to have to come up with a plan," Mendenhall says. "It's not going away."

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Turkeys cross the road at Ashland Avenue in Medford Thursday. Turkeys flying into powerlines have caused four outages in east Medford in the past month. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch