Did you know that the Bay Area’s wild turkeys aren’t native to California? They’re actually a subspecies from the southwest introduced to the state by the California Fish and Game Commission as a trophy hunting bird in the second half of the last century. Who knew, right?
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about California’s wild turkeys. My kids and I love spotting them on the trails, watching as the flock struts slowly in search of their next meal. They’re beautiful critters no doubt – but they’re kinda taking over. Today, wild turkeys can be found in a quarter of the state – opportunistically enjoying the good life in California.
Part of the reason they are able to so easily acclimate to the state is their curious appetite. As omnivores, wild turkeys have options when it comes to finding their next meal. Seeds, berries, roots, insects, even small reptiles and amphibians are all fair game.
And unlike their domesticated cousins, wild turkeys are capable flyers so they can move more easily through our open spaces. You’ll often see them cruising low through the forest canopy or up to a comfy perch to settle in for a night’s snooze.
There’s a dark side to these birds though too. In the spring, during mating season, it’s not uncommon for males to become aggressive toward people and charge valiantly toward a group of passing hikers. So, note to self during the spring breeding season: give them plenty of room.
5 Fun Facts About California’s Wild Turkeys
1. They are a species that was introduced from Texas.
2. They have expanded their territory to over a quarter of the state.
3. As omnivores, they have a wide-ranging appetite.
4. They can be quite aggressive toward humans during the spring mating season.
5. And they can fly…at least for a little while.
It’s clear, California’s wild turkeys are here to stay. But there’s still considerable debate around the impact these birds are having on the state’s ecosystem. Some studies have shown that these non-native wild turkeys are eating endangered species and threatening the balance of local ecosystems, while others have found little evidence of the bird’s negative impacts. As their population expands, it will be important for us to better understand their impacts on the land.
So, stay tuned as we learn more about this gregarious critter. And, in the meantime, enjoy your turkey – native or not.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 79,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more