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Let’s talk turkey about turkeys in the garden

“For in truth, the turkey is in comparison (to the bald eagle) a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. ... He is besides, though a little vain and silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”

— Benjamin Franklin, writing about his support of the turkey as the national bird, Jan. 26, 1784

The other day, I was outside taking advantage of some sunshine to clean up a flowerbed in my front yard. Suddenly, I felt like I was not alone. I looked around, but no one was there.

Yet, I could not shake the feeling I was being watched. This time I put on my glasses and checked around more closely. There on the other side of the laurel hedge, peering at me through the branches with their beady dark eyes, a group of five or six male turkeys waited impatiently for me to clear out of “their” territory.

Actually, that’s not quite fair. There are three or four different flocks of wild turkeys roaming around my neighborhood in old east Medford, and they are all quite content to share the territory with human residents and our pets.

Indeed, adaptability is the sought-after feature of these feathered neighborhood newcomers, which I learned are a subspecies of wild turkey called Rio Grande, native to regions in Texas. Oregon has no native turkeys, so the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife began importing Rio Grande turkeys for hunting in 1975. Some of the turkeys were released in the foothills around Roxy Ann Peak.

As housing and business development near Roxy Ann has increased over the past five or six years, displaced turkeys have been finding their way into my neighborhood. They share our yards and gardens for foraging, our tall trees, roofs and powerlines for roosting, and our streets for daily traversing.

There are few coyotes, cougars and bobcats to contend with, and most pet cats are afraid of the 25-pound toms. (So are my medium-sized dogs). Vehicles can be hazardous to suburban turkeys, but most drivers I’ve seen are pretty patient about allowing them to cross the road unmolested.

Wild turkeys have it made in the shade in my neighborhood. Some people even feed them, and there are lots of bird feeders around, so they don’t have to waste time foraging.

So for kicks, really, the turkeys spend their time in my garden: scratching away the irrigation driplines and the mulch in my flowerbeds and paths, breaking the stems and pecking the leaves and flowers off my annuals and perennials, eating young plant shoots and seeds meant for pollinators, toppling the birdbath, pillaging the bird feeders.

Several years ago, a few turkeys wandering through the yard was charming. Now, three or four flocks of eight to 10 large birds ambling through every day is alarming.

The toms are particularly aggressive March through June because they’re courting hotties. The male gobblers look like a gang, fluffing up big for the hens and showing their colors as they come charging down the street in the morning toward the sun and the corn.

The other day when I was cleaning my flowerbeds and I faced off with the turkeys, I decided to put my foot down about all of this sharing. I stamped it several times, and I yelled at the turkeys, “I’m taking back my garden!” When that didn’t work, I clapped my hands and yelled curse words.

That’s when five or six toms threw me the evil-eye and shuffled off nonchalantly, in quite a huff that I would be so ungracious. One stretched out a powerful leg behind him and kicked up some more mulch as he sauntered off. I could swear his middle talon was pointed back at me. To arms, turkeys!

— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about turkeys in the garden, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.