Wild Turkeys in My Garden: Combat!
Gardening on the High Plains
I am a country gardener. I live several miles from town on the high plains, in an area where there's no such thing as a fenced yard. Sixty-foot ponderosa pines grow thickly on and around my property. Wildlife abounds--black bears, white-tailed deer, coyotes, foxes, squirrels, rabbits. Oh, and turkeys. Wild turkeys.
Somehow I'd never thought about turkeys. Once I began to plant my garden, I quickly learned that protecting my flowers and shrubs from deer and rabbits would be a full-time occupation, but I didn't perceive turkeys as a threat, and they weren't, initially. I moved here from the lush tidewater area of Virginia during a wet season, and didn't realize wet seasons are the exception here, not the norm. The first few years were rich with rain, and I only saw the turkeys from a distance, moving with self-absorbed dignity through the trees and across the small meadows, as many as 25 in a flock. They delighted me, and I loved pointing them out to my family and friends.
Then the rains began to diminish, and my state began to endure the worst drought in its recorded history. Soon my gardens were the only moist soil around, and the insects and worms congregated there. And that attracted the turkeys.
Arrival of the Turkeys
I noticed a couple of hens walking through the trees beyond my property one morning, and could see that one had been injured. Her lower left leg was bent at about a 30-degree angle, and she limped heavily. Oh, the poor thing, I thought, and went outside to see if I could approach her. She was easily able to keep away from me, and I didn't see any open wound or bleeding, so I decided to leave her alone and let nature take its course.
I started watching for her every day, and usually saw her and the other hen. They stayed outside my property, so I still didn't suspect that a problem was brewing--or, rather, hatching. Then one day I saw the hens and they had a total of 11 poults (babies) with them. The poults were adorable: little balls of light brown fluff with tiny claws, like a canary's. I didn't worry that they were now on my property, pecking at one of the outer flower beds. They were just too cute, trying to scratch at the deep mulch with their itty-bitty claws.
The Turkeys Attack
After that first sighting, the turkeys disappeared for a while and I forgot about them, busy with my usual outdoor summer effort to get enough water onto my flowerbeds. After a few weeks, I began to notice an occasional disturbance in the beds, mulch moved off some of the the soaker hoses and scattered onto the lawn or the flagstone walkways. Rabbits, I thought, or deer, and moved it back onto the beds.
Then one morning I glanced out the kitchen window and saw them. The poults were no longer tiny; they were nearly as large as the hens. They had turned into Turkosaurs, 13 large, wild turkeys with big beaks and powerful claws that they were using to wreak destruction on my flowerbeds. Mulch was flying everywhere, as well as fronds and branches and roots of plants, savagely torn up and scattered around. Soaker hoses had been pulled up through the mulch and lay exposed every few feet. The previously smooth surfaces of the beds were now undulated, with curving piles of mulch surrounded by areas scraped down to the soil. It was truly devastation.
I bolted from the house and ran at the nearest bunch, shouting and waving my arms. They ran off, and were joined by the ones in the other flowerbeds. I stopped, and so did they. I walked toward them, shouting, "Get out!" and they moved away until they were off my property. I flung a few rocks at them to make my point, made sure they were still going, and went back to look at my ruined flowerbeds.
Cursing and trying to estimate how much labor and money it was going to take to repair the damage and replant, I heard a noise and turned around. The mini T-Rexes were back, headed into the far beds. I ran at them again and they trotted away, keeping about 20 feet in front of me. I stopped, they stopped. I went forward, they walked away, just fast enough to keep out of range. My flowerbeds were full of fat, luscious bugs, and the turkeys weren't leaving until they'd had their fill. Even the limping hen was there, and I made a run at her, my feelings of sympathy transformed into the desire to trample her into the ground. But even she could keep ahead of me, and didn't seem the least bit worried.
Over the next four weeks I tried various tactics and products to discourage my new enemies. I called the Department of Wildlife and learned that wild turkeys are a protected species, so siccing the neighbor's dogs on them was out. So were hand grenades, and an impromptu turkey shoot. In addition, they're not considered a threat, so the Department of Wildlife wouldn't come and take them away. It was up to me.
I tried a repellant spray that was actually designed for deer and rabbits, but I thought it was worth a shot. The smell nearly knocked me down--it's made of rotten egg solids. The turkeys didn't mind it a bit; it turns out they have a very poor sense of smell. I went online and checked out various bird repellants. One, a strobe light, can't be used outdoors. Sirens and recordings of barking dogs and birds in distress seemed like something the birds would get used to and ignore. The propane cannon just sounded a bit too ambitious, besides being out of my price range.
In the meantime, the turkeys were staging raids whenever they thought I wouldn't notice, sometimes twice a day. They kept tearing up the yard and I kept replacing everything, getting madder all the time. One day while gathering firewood, I was pleased to see that they weren't around. Maybe they're gone, I thought. Maybe they've moved on. As I bent down to pick up a piece of wood, I heard an odd sound from above. Straightening up, I looked up and saw a turkey about 30 feet up in the pine tree. All 13 of them were there, scattered among the trees, silently watching me from above. It hadn't occurred to me that wild turkeys could fly. I suddenly knew how Tippi Hedren felt in Hitchcock's "The Birds." I went back inside.
Vengence is Mine
I was finally rescued by another thing I knew nothing about: turkey hunting season! For five glorious weeks, Colorado's hunters were up in the mountains and out on the plains, hunting my feathered nemeses and bringing them down. I don't know how many of the 13 Turkosaurs made it through the season, but they stopped coming around. And when I sink my fork into a juicy turkey on Thanksgiving Day, it doesn't matter to me that it's a domestic bird and can't possibly have been one of the monsters that ran amok in my garden. I feel a gleeful, vengeful satisfaction. Take THAT, you feathered menace! The only good Turkosaur is a dead Turkosaur! With gravy.
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