One Davis turkey called Downtown Tom menaces pedestrians in the city’s urban core. Others flock to the city cemetery and bother mourners. Turkeys roam the streets of the college town, blocking traffic, leaving droppings and eating landscaping.
Davis residents are notoriously fond of urban creatures. They built a tunnel for toads and rounded up jackrabbits to protect them from construction. But when it comes to wild turkeys, city leaders decided it was time to put a stop to a problem that many people think has gotten out of hand.
Council members voted 4-1 this week to approve a wild turkey management plan that includes trapping and relocating many turkeys and possibly killing a few particularly aggressive birds. They also called for an ordinance prohibiting people from feeding turkeys. Abundant food and close contact with humans is warping the normal pecking order between turkeys and humans, officials said.
“They’re living on Fantasy Island here,” John McNerny, the city’s wildlife resource specialist, said of the turkeys. “They have everything they need.”
He told council members at their meeting Tuesday that it is already illegal under state law to feed wild animals, but the law is difficult to enforce and some residents openly scoff at being told not to feed the turkeys.
Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel told council members that his department has fielded 911 calls from people accosted by turkeys, including a man who was pinned against the wall of a local bank by a large bird.
Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson said one father told her his 9-year-old son is “terrified” to come downtown because of the turkeys.
Aggressive turkeys began bothering Davis residents a decade ago when a flock of 10 or so took up residence at the city cemetery. They chased visitors, ate flowers left at graves and multiplied. They also moved into other parts of the city, including its prized downtown – a bike-and-pedestrian friendly grid of shops and restaurants adjacent to the UC Davis campus.
Some residents say Downtown Tom, who likely could be the first casualty of the new turkey plan, just hangs out in parking spots, while others say he bullies shoppers. A sign at one of the city’s main intersections warns of an aggressive turkey in the area.
The management plan calls for measures to keep Davis’ wild turkey population at or below the current 80 birds.
The plan approved by the council involves a four-pronged approach. It includes discouraging residents from feeding the birds, mass capture and relocation, promoting natural predators such as foxes and coyotes, and “selective lethal removal” of overly aggressive turkeys – perhaps killing them while they’re roosting at night.
Councilman Brett Lee cast the dissenting vote, saying he opposed the trapping and relocation measure, the most expensive element of the program. Cost for the plan during its first year is estimated at $20,500 for equipment, materials, staff time and the services of a trapping consultant, according to the staff report.
Council members said they would like to reinforce the state’s feeding prohibition with a city ordinance. Swanson said the ordinance should include a stiff penalty, such as a $1,000 fine. Staff members said enforcement would depend heavily on people in the community reporting offenders.
The council directed city staff to prepare a no-feeding ordinance for council consideration at a future meeting.