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November 20, 2013

What to Do About Wild Turkeys

Too many turkeys in your yard or garden? Find easy, effective, and humane ways to move them along

  • Did you know? The turkey’s head and facial “wattles” can change colors (red, pink, blue, white) depending on the turkey’s mood. iStockphoto.com

  • Adult male turkeys are called toms and females are called hens. Young turkeys are called poults, adolescent males are jakes, and adolescent females are jennies. iStockphoto.com

  • The turkey was Benjamin Franklin’s choice for the United States’ national bird. Christopher Brown

  • Unique to each male, their gobbling call can be heard from a mile away! Females don’t gobble. iStockphoto.com

  • Turkeys are found in every state in the U.S., except Alaska. This hen is right at home in New York City's Central Park. iStockphoto.com

Once a rare sight, these days it’s not uncommon to see a flock of wild turkeys in residential neighborhoods. Drawn into urban and suburban areas looking for food and mates, wild turkeys are loved by some but may be a nuisance or source of fear for others.

The fear of getting diseases from turkey droppings has been used as an excuse to kill wild turkeys, but killing nuisance turkeys is cruel and doesn't solve the problem (more turkeys will just take their place). Try these effective, non-lethal ways to get rid of unwanted wild turkeys.

Five ways to solve a wild turkey problem

1. Don’t feed wild turkeys

Most conflicts with turkeys occur in areas where they’re being fed by people. The first step towards resolving conflicts with turkeys is to eliminate sources of food such as direct handouts from people, unsecured garbage, and spilled bird seed. You may consider removing bird feeders (especially in the spring and summer) until the turkeys move on. Remember to also talk to your neighbors to ensure that they are not feeding turkeys either!

It’s easy to scare turkeys away by making noises, popping open an umbrella, throwing tennis balls, or dousing the turkey with water from a hose or squirt gun.

2. Scare away problem turkeys

Wild turkeys have a “pecking order” of dominance and may view people or pets who act fearful as underlings, chasing them or blocking the entrance to homes or cars. If a wild turkey (or a flock of turkeys) has invaded your yard, driveway, or neighborhood, it’s important that you establish your dominance by hazing the turkey(s). It’s easy to scare turkeys away by making noises (try waving your arms and yelling or blowing a whistle), popping open an umbrella, throwing tennis balls, or dousing the turkey with water from a hose or squirt gun.  A leashed dog may also be effective in scaring a turkey away.

It’s important that all members of your family (including children and the elderly) exhibit their dominance over your neighborhood turkeys through hazing in order to have the desired effect.  Although wild turkeys may look large and intimidating, they are usually timid and scare easily.

During mating season (February-May), male turkeys may venture into neighborhoods looking for females to mate with. They may respond aggressively to reflective surfaces (such as windows, automobile mirrors, or polished car doors), thinking that their reflection is an intruding male turkey. In this case, haze the turkey away and then temporarily cover the reflective surface if possible.

3. Encourage roosting turkeys to move elsewhere

Wild turkeys usually roost in trees, but in urban areas they are also known to roost on roofs or on decks.The good news is that wild turkeys are cautious birds that are pretty easy to scare away. To break up turkey roosts on decks or roofs, making loud noises or spraying them with a water hose is usually all that’s needed, although sometimes a follow-up treatment might be necessary. You may also use motion-activated devices (such as a Scarecrow Motion-Activated Sprinkler, which will scare turkeys away with a sharp burst of water) or anti-perching devices (such as Birdwire or another type of wire installation that limits or prevents perching on your roof).

  • Give wild turkeys a "brake"—if you see one in the road, others are likely to follow. Beth Levison

4. Protect your garden from turkeys

Most of the crop and garden damage blamed on wild turkeys is actually caused by other animals (such as raccoons, groundhogs, foxes, deer, or squirrels). Still, you can keep wild turkeys from feasting on your garden or shrubs by using a motion-activated scare device (such as a Scarecrow Motion-Activated Sprinkler) or by protecting plants and vegetables with hardware cloth. (Try to avoid the use of netting, which can entrap birds and other animals.)

5. Watch out for turkeys on the road

Wild turkeys sometimes forage along the road, so watch for these feathered pedestrians crossing the road without checking for cars. And look carefully for stragglers as these birds travel in groups.  See our tips for watching out for wildlife when behind the wheel.

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